Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It's better in the original Klingon

Michael Dirda, the Washington Post book reviewer, has what I believe is a weekly online Q&A on books. This week he tries but fails to avoid talking about the Da Vinci code. His first (of many) replies contains some better conspiracy/mystery novels:

I read the first chapter and the thought the prose dull and poor, so never read any more. If you like these sorts of books, I suggest instead Lawrence Norfolk's Lempriere's Dictionary, A.S. Byatt's Possession, Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, and Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost.

It's not all pop fiction though, one question got this response:

Personally, I think a copy of Spinoza's Ethics--ideally in the original Latin--might really impress her.

Right round round round

I've been meaning to read to one of the 33 1/3 books for awhile now. If you are not familiar with the project, it is a series of books about important rock albums. There is a blog associated with the project. I picked up one titled Let it Be (Replacements) by Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decembrists. I say titled because it is less about the album or the band that it is about how that album figured in the middle school years of Mr. Meloy. He does a great job writing about how enthusiastic kids get about their music. He also spends a lot of time talking about bonding or trying to bond over music. I'll read more, but Matt says don't read the OK Computer one.

I managed to miss the Replacements in the 80s despite listening to plenty of similar bands. I think it was just harder to get ahold of unfamiliar music, what with crappy radio, MTV's decay, and with limited mix tape making amongst my friends.

Cooking as war

Here is an article on a fun sounding trend, groups of friends playing their own version of Iron Chef. It can get a little competitive:

In fact, one Washington team briefly considered cleaning out the entire supply of last week's secret ingredient, coconuts, from the local Whole Foods Market to foil the other.

Here is an amusing and revealing look at how advocacy groups think.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

His mind would turn unto the waters

OK, so Amagansett shouldn't work. The plot has a pile of cliched elements. The two male leads are loner types. The first is a disgraced NYPD cop exiled to the Long Island sticks. The other is first generation Basque-American fisherman with secrets of his own. A daughter of a wealthy family ends up in our Basque friend's fishing net, and wouldn't you know it, said wealthy family has some secrets too!!! And guess what, they aren't the nicest of people either. Throw in an incompetent police chief, a woman that promises redemption for our disgraced and recently divorced cop and you have the makings of every mystery novel ever written.

So why does it work? First, the writing is good. Mills is excellent at describing the coast and the sea, which are in abundance on Long Island. His descriptions of fishing are also memorable. The setting is a plus as well. It's a few years after World War 2, which is a time you don't see much in literature. There are plenty of war stories, and plenty of tales from the 50s, whether they be about the effects of living with the Cold War or living with the new prosperity and the conformity and rebellion that came with it. The late 40s setting provides a few new things. For one, the country is still hurting from the war. Many families are short fathers, sons and brothers and still mourn. The effects (specifically wealth) from Prohibition are still an issue. And the suburbinization of areas like Long Island is really just starting. This is new stuff and it is interesting.

It isn't really a thriller but a slow paced mystery about sadness. I dug it.

You pray so hard on bloody knees

So Devil's Rejects is a pretty nasty movie. It was actually less gory than I anticipated, but it is very cruel. The killer Firefly family tortures their victims and much of that is mental. They are repellent people and it is often difficult to watch them. My initial reaction was that there is something wrong in depicting something this vile for entertainment. After some reflection I recalled all the books that depicted similarly cruel characters committing similar crimes. There are whole genres of books in this vein, and they are mainstream. I am thinking of the likes of Mo Hayder here ( and I must admit her new book looks excellent.) So is there a difference in the paper and film media? I don't know myself.

So I did like a lot of the film. There is a wierd humor to it, and I actually laughed in parts (not to killing thank you, but at some of the wierd perspectives.) There is a scene where a Marx Brothers scholar is brought into the police station to provide some intel and it is just great. Director Rob Zombie (the Superbeast himself) sought to capture a 1970s cinematic feel and he did it very well. Everyone looks grimy just like 70s horror movies. The hair, the clothes and even the film itself look like they come from the 70s. So if you can stomach people being incredibly nasty, you may like this.

Someone is taking crazy pills

Few things truly merit the descriptor unbelievable. But this is one of them.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Too much blood

Lovers of the undead should take a peek at this free online serial vampire novel. It's by a dude that recently published a zombie book, which LOVES and the Washington Post HATES (scroll to bottom). Whom to believe?

You put it on my tab

Here is interesting cocktail for those wishing to think of New Orleans. It's a bit odd in that it calls for Peychaud rather than Angostura bitters. According to this, you will have tough luck finding the former outside of New Orleans.

What gives me pause is that it calls for the dread absinthe. And this sentence is going to give me nightmares:

Note: I actually keep my absinthe in a small atomizer bottle and just spray the glass with this to coat.

Ticking away the moments

Thanks to the Harper Collins First Look program (which you really should join,) I just finished the not-yet published Three Days To Never by Tim Powers. The good news is that it is classic Powers, a tightly plotted tale of secret history involving Einstein, the Mossad, the ever popular Albigensian Crusade, and Charlie Chaplin. The bad news is that while it is the equal of Last Call, it doesn't quite reach the heights of Declare.

Let me be clear, this is a very good book and well worth reading, it just falls within a more comfortable pattern than Declare. I found myself missing the giant sweep in time and scale of Declare. On the plus side, the book is more stream-lined that many of his others. I've found that Powers can meander a bit in the kooky magic he creates. He builds up a bit too much detail at times. In most of his books, real history is used but with a twist. In Last Call, card playing is an act of sorcery. In On Stranger Tides, pirates use magic to find the Fountain of Youth. This time, he manages to hide what is going on while keeping it quite interesting and the story moved along quite well. I also like how me makes what appears to be a small character flaw in the main character become a bit creepy as the novel progresses.

If you've liked Powers in the past, you'll be happy with this one. If not, it's a good place to start.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

On the lighter side...

Tyler Cowen tells you everything you know about France is wrong, at least all the political stuff.

There is a crazy explosion of new M&M flavors. They seem to packing a lot into a small candy, for example :Eat, Drink & Be Cherry: White chocolate, milk chocolate, black cherry flavored candy shell. The rest are similar.

Here is something fun. An eco-disaster novel in which a Gaia like entity rebels against our pollutin' ways and blows shit up (happily it is availble here in the U S of A). It reminds me of an underappreciated ecosystem out of balance thriller called Dust. Hell is definately in the handbasket in that one.

Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (author of the excellent Man Who Tried to Save the World) has a Memorial day piece in the NYT. It is the story of some soldiers from a National Guard unit sent into the Sunni triangle and their attempts to get back into domestic American life. He has a new novel as well. The book is a satirical look at Anglo-American policy in the Middle East.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Best cookbook you can't have

Here is one for the foodies (that would be Joanna and NBK) The NYT asked a number of food related types what their favorite out of print cook book is. Some are straitforward, some are bizarre, like this one.

Modern cookbook writers rarely take the time to address the origins of women's panties, the best time of year for eating robins and meadowlarks, the effects of menstruation on mayonnaise-making and the unheralded kitchen pioneering of Genghis Khan, the Virgin Mary and Stonewall Jackson. George Herter's bombastic comic-culinary masterpiece, "Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices," self-published in 1960, did all that and more.

My favorite isn't really out of print but it is old-skool, the Betty Crocker Cooky book. See, it's Cooky not cookie so you it is from way back in the way back. There are some choice photos and I like the top cookies of each decade. For example, brownies were the BOMB in the 1920s. The first half of the 1950s was all about the salted peanut crisp. The top cookie of never? That has to be the Christmas Jewel. I made that for a party once and only one person took one, and they put it back after taking a bite. That's just cold.

The book from the county Hell

If you were to cross David Lynch with Psycho and then with the Pogues, you would get Emerald Germs of Ireland. It's a very strange book. First each chapter is begun with a song, which happens to relate to a death in the following chapter. The deaths are caused by 45 year old Pat McCabe who having just killed his stifling mother, now thinks everyone is after them. Since Pat is crazy, you are never too sure just what is real and what isn't. Each chapter has a different style as well. This review from Britain fills in some questions I had. The title is a reference to a publication from older Irish times and the book is something of a satire of Irish life. Anyway, it is very odd, but try it if you like really bizarrely presented serial killer books.

Better brownies

Yikes, if you want some tasty brownies, throw some Guittard chips into the batter. We put the mint chips in some brownies and they were super fantastic. The flavor was intense and not too sweet. A really nice addition. I'd seen the chips at the grocery, but didn't give them much of a thought. That was a mistake.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Who wants to be a President or a King?

Gee, while I wasn't looking the American Presidents Series got a lot longer. If you are not familiar these are short (200> pages) books on an individual President. They are written by major historians as well. If you are like me and want a short introduction to a President, this is a great way to go. I picked up the Andrew Jackson volume at the library. It's written by Sean Wilentz, author of a book on American democracy and a rather scathing review of the current Adminstration entitled "The Worst President in History?" So this guy doesn't have any strong opinions or anything.


Hotel Rwanda is an excellent movie. It shows the horror of the 1994 massacre of Tutsis, but tells the story in a way that is comprehendable. In this case, Paul Rusesabagina is a Hutu (married to a Tutsi) who works at a 4 star Belgian owned hotel. It is his experience managing foreigners and his purported connections to the West that keep him and many Tutsis alive in the center of Kigali.

Paul's character, ably played by Don Cheadle, undergoes great change. At first he is reluctant to help his neighbors for fear of losing his job. He comes to see that his job is meaningless, particuarly when the West abandons the Tutsis to their fate. One criticism of the movie I read says that the movie does not put enough emphasis on the failure of the West to act. I think this is wrongheaded. The points are made, including the fact that the Belgians at best exaccerbated and at worst created the conflict between Hutu and Tutsi. The failure to intervene is made directly when the paras come to pull out the Euros while leaving the Tutsis to die. Still, to focus on the West makes the story about the West, rather than the Africans and the bravery of Paul Rusesabagina.

As Don Cheadle notes in his commentary about the abandoment of Rwanda, it is hard not to believe that West doesn't care about blacks killing blacks, especially when you consider what is still happening in Sudan and the Congo. Global Security has a good overview of the Congo war which claimed THREE MILLION lives. One of the war's catalysts was Rwandan Tutsis invading Congo to root out remaining Hutu war criminals. So, the Rwandan atrocities have this war on their heads as well. I don't know of any good books on the Congo war, but We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families is an excellent book on Rwanda.

Too much horror business

Chuck Palahniuk has an appreciation of the "cycle" horror movie in the Guardian today. He describes the cycle this way:

In all of them, an individual is trapped by an established cycle of events that doom and destroy. From their story you can imagine that same cycle or process stretching into the past or future, destroying an endless chain of similar people, all of them denying the dire nature of their circumstances until their fate is inevitable.

I tend to like these movies too, but my next horror is the Devil's Rejects.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The sunday swap meet is a battle ground

Cybele has a post up on the notion of international swapping(of goods). Given that Cybele runs a candy blog (called Candy Blog) it is not surprising that she wants to swap candy. I do have visions of finally trying some of the more off the wall Kit-Kats like Blood Orange or Christmas Pudding. I do have a general British candy fetish, but you can get ahold of those with some ease at places like World Market.

But what about books? There are all those fun books only published abroad, or perhaps not quite published in your own country. They aren't too terribly expensive to ship either.

Stay on target

Many cultures have special rites for the growth of their children. You have the confirmation in the Christian church and the bar/bat mitzvah in Judaism. In some cultures, a boy must slay an animal or spend time alone in the wilderness. Among nerd tribes, one of the first steps to enlightenment is the Watching of Star Wars. Last night, our oldest son took this first step.

And no, we did not start with the prequels thanks very much. The only downside is that he will see the "upgraded" versions and may think the Greedo shot first. Unless we get the unedited version DVDs that are coming out in the fall. Then we can use Jedi mind tricks to make him think he saw that first.

Simon kept calling C3-P0 the Tin Man, thanks to his frequent Wizard of Oz viewings. Thanks to that I found this Star Wars-Wizard of Oz comparison. He also expressed great concern for the Rebel Alliance soldier's on Leia's ship. He is not going to be happy when the X-wings start blowing up.

Fett fans should check this out.

Zed's dead baby, Zed's dead

Slate is running a number of pieces on pulp fiction. There's a nice appreciation of Mildred Pierce, a great James Cain novel. There's an amusing display of pulpy covers of classic novels (I particularly like Moby Dick.) John Banville has a short piece on Richard Stark's Parker series. Then there is this bit on a "lesbian erotic thriller" by Patricia Highsmith. This really is a something for everyone week over there.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

... but some animals are more equal than others

I'm not sure what to say about this exchange. A 20-something student (part of the much-excoriated Generation Y, I believe) sacrifices her moment in the sun to say something she thinks is important about a public figure - a member of the Keating 5 who is recycling his remarks for her commencement, no less - and is rewarded for her temerity by a career hanger-on and political hack. One pictures Mr. Salter and his fellow brownshirts smoldering with rage that this, this ... student! would dare question the actions of an elected official in a representative democracy. Apparently some of her fellows went so far as to suggest that Bob Kerrey was a war criminal after he, well, confessed to being a war criminal (registration required). Oh, the humanity. Hey, people, he snuffed a few civvies. It's not like he was on a Swift boat or smoked some cheeb at Oxford or anything really, you know, BAD.

Well, I guess I did know what to say about this exchange. I don't agree with everything Ms. Rohe said, but I damn sure agree with her right to say it. What a brave thing to do. And what a small response from someone who is paid to know better.

Beautiful girl, lovely dress

Dennis Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro books are some of the finest PI novels ever written. They are heavily violent, but if that doesn't turn you off, then you should give one a try. I was unaware that a movie version of Gone Baby Gone is in the works. Sounds fine, although Casey Affleck is playing Kenzie. This is a bit odd, as I pictured him being much older. At least he will sound like he is from Boston. The wiki mentions that Shutter Island may be on the big screen as well. Thanks to length and less baggage coming with beloved characters, I suspect it will be a better received effort.

Nerds on parade

Here is a strange use of Google Maps. Ok, it's the Internet, so one's nerdiest desires can be played out. On this site, you can create an X-men mutant identity and say if you are one of Professor X's kids or one of Magneto's bad boys (or girls.) It's global, I found someone in the hinterlands of Ethiopia, but also someone not far from Virginia Beach's Duck Inn. It's an pretty good marketing effort.

On the book front I started Cobra II, which is quite good so far, but might be too much for those suffering from Iraq book fatigue.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lots of pretty, pretty ones

Here is a nice take down of Madonna's "shocking" cross imagery. The site, postmodern conservative is well worth reading on a regular basis, as it presents a viewpoint rarely seen online. And it has an Anthony Trollope quote on the banner. You have to get points for that.

Let her sun never set

The development of the British Empire under Queen Victoria remains fascinating. Thanks to the bizarre characters and behavior of the British it is interesting on its own. As the US continues to become engaged in strange corners around the globe, it is also provides relevant lessons for today's policymakers and citizens. Max Hastings has a review of a new volume (only available in the UK at the moment) on the subject and in this author apparently makes direct comparisons to the current situation. I will be awaiting this one.

If you simply cannot wait to satisfy your Imperial jones, then you have much from which to choose. I would start with James/Jan Morris's Pax Britannia trilogy as it amazingly well written. For those who want the most adventurous approach there is Byron Farwell, or if you just want the Central Asian story, Peter Hopkirk is your man. Lawrence James' Rise and Fall of the British Empire is a nice single volume treatment. If your taste runs to Marxist analysis, well, you've probably already read Hobsbawm haven't you?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Click this, click this now

Does a good band come to town, you know the kind you like, and you think, nah, I'll give it a pass. Well you are going to rethink that move after you check this out. This could happen to you Apparently, Shellac put on a show. Unbeknowst to the fans, David Yow did all the singing. In a fake British accent. Because they did nothing but Sex Pistols covers. Yes, this may be the best show that ever was. The site says the sound quality is weak, but if you are into this sort of thing, give it a listen.

Since I am talking about Shellac, check out this art school video of Prayer to God. 1000% work unsafe thanks to a storm of f-bombs.

On the good music tip, nbk sent this link to fave Misfits songs. All who are wise love Some Kinda Hate, but what about Astrozombies or Ghouls Night Out? Anyway, some funny commentary therein. And vote for your faves.

Cards in my spokes, practicing my jokes

Just because they are that cool, Powells is putting out a series of author trading cards, sans bubblegum I'm sad to say. The link hints at a Robert Jordan card, for shame, for shame. Where is the George R R Martin?

You may not want to hear this, see

The Guardian has an article that at least partially validates the controversial Tyler Cowen Slate piece. It notes that you can't just plop a bookstore anywhere:

First, the owner needs bags of experience. Starting on a whim - "I'm tired of my job in industrial chemistry and have always loved books" - is generally a recipe for disaster. Second, find the right location: Oldfield Park is a brilliant spot, a gentrifying suburb with lots of young professionals (big book buyers) and aspirational families (buyers of big books). The place is big and busy enough to support a well-run local bookshop, but not so attractive that Ottakar's, say, is going to come calling. It can be done.

The author visits a number of successful independents and describes what they do and how they differ from the independents. In short, they succeed by being better or different from the chains. No matter what you think of the subject, you will probably long for a visit to the UK to visit some of these shops.


Old Dominion has a good appreciation of a sibling today. Check it out.

I got ten of 'em stashed with a case of hand grenades!

The Lord of War is one of the best movies I've seen in awhile. It's also one of the best movies about international relations ever. A nice class could he held with it, Fail Safe, the Fog of War and the Battle of Algiers. All these movies share an unsentimental, realistic view of the world as it is, not as it should be. Even more appealing they do not allow any comfort in the conclusion of their narrative arcs.

The Lord of War follows the career of arms dealer Yuri Orlov. He gets his start in the 1980s and does well, but once the Soviet Union collapses and the largest military in history puts on a fire sale, he gets really wealthy. He moves product to Africa where we get what may be the only mainstream movie view of what went on in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Orlov narrates that the West ignored this because it had a white war on its hands in the Balkans. Ouch. A subplot involving Orlov's troubled brother adds an unnecessary bit of melodrama at the end. Don't worry, the actual end is much better.

The movie is loaded with excellent detail. We learn about the importance of the Russian-made AK-47 in international arm sales and in the world (it is on some currency and one flag). We learn about how diamonds finance war (and although unstated terrorism.) We learn how much of the world is implicated in all this. Unlike so many other movies, this movie manages to make its points in a non-didactic manner. It also avoid the standard assumption that if it were not for a bunch of old white men tucked away in DC, we would all be running around throwing flowers in some new Age of Aquarius.

The subtitle of the movie could be "Evil prevails." Orlov says this to feel better about what he does as in if he did not sell weapons to thugs, someone else would. The world, as Orlov shows, and as the news read seems to fit this description.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I use my special word and they ask me out for tea

It took me a while to get into it, but I did like Matchpoint, the latest Woody Allen picture. It was cool and distant, quite unlike Allen movies, also quite different in locale, London. The feel is like Hitchcock doing Highsmith (less the gay undertones.) It is a rather dark picture with strong emphasis on the way chance and luck drive our lives. I think one of the points of the movie is that we have to take advantage of what luck brings our way. This is a depature for Allen as it is a thriller, and I thought he did an excellent job of setting up stressful situations. It is slow to develop and is probably not for everyone.

A few items

So why do the under 40s of today whine like little bitches? Apparently it is because of Free to Be You and Me and other self esteem promoting programs. That's the argument in a new book at least. Having not read the book, I will only say that the idea that you can have it all does conflict with the notion of social responsibility. Also in their own ways, both left and right are guilty of weakening the public space.

In response to the lame top books list from the NYT, Reason put out a short piece that links to an older Reason piece wondering why novelists are no longer the cultural heroes they once were. I think it's because we're whiny little bitches.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

My blood runs cold...

In case that NYT top books of the past 25 years has you down, you might want to take a look at Playboy's top 25 Sexiest novels of all time. Sorry, no Topping from Below, but Phillip Roth can't seem to stay away from any top 25. Sad to say, the Playboy list tends to the good authors doing dirty stuff rather than dirty authors crossing over into good stuff, so nothing is too terribly freaky. At the very least they did not claim that de Sade had any merit.

This meat IS murder

A friend and I were just talking about the Fast Food Nation movie and wondering how well it can translate. It's not a documentary, but rather the tale of how the burger gets to your table. The trailer has lots of the interesting parts of the book including the use of chemicals to create taste and smell, the working and sanitary conditions at beef processing plants and the marketing efforts by fast food companies. It looks as if it might be a decent flick.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I hope this song does not make you crazy

This one is getting a lot of airplay around here. According to the site, the song "Crazy" reached number 1 in the UK thanks to downloads. Word. Since DangerMouse contributes I bet NBK will love it.

I can pull on a rope

Amazon has a preview of likely-to-be-popular summer novels. The only one that really caught my eye was Bangkok Tattoo, by the author of Bangkok 8. I liked but did not love that one. The best part was having a Buddhist as the main character. He was always seeing auras and the like. Not your typical mystery.

Much more exciting is this new John McPhee book. In it, he hitches a ride on some cross country freight trucks to let you know what it is like. McPhee has the magic power of making any subject fascinating. Which is another of way saying that he quickly finds what is interesting in a subject and presents it perfectly. Steve recently gave me Irons in the Fire, the titular story of which concerns the Nevada cow brand inspectors and it is riveting.


I can understand why many of my friends found Feast for Crows frustrating. It is fairly slow and introduces many new characters in an already confusing story. Still, the book is good. It is worth asking why this book, in which not much happens is so much better than the last few volumes by Robert Jordan, in whose books nothing happens either.

The first is in the detail. Jordan describes political machinations by having some noble appear coy and then trots out some phrase like "wheels within wheels" or some such. Martin's characters develop plots, implement them and then sees the results. It helps that in this book there are four or five rival power centers vying for control of the land, whereas in the Jordan book it is good trying to deal with various evils. This allows for a greater realism, where the "heroes" do dastardly deeds, and the villains become quite sympathetic.

The other main reason I think the Martin book is well worth reading is that the characters continue to develop. The Stark daughter Sansa has changed from a prissy good for naught to a troubled girl in hiding. The Lannister twins, once incestuous lovers, are now becoming increasingly hostile as their interests diverge. In short, these people are interesting and change, while the Jordan characters remain largely the same as when we first met them.

So if you have heard some bad press about the Feast for Crows, I urge you to pick it up and give it a try.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Go white girl, go white girl, go

This is strange. Too bad Hannibal Lechter wasn't there dressed like Flavor Flav. In order to set the universe in balance, DMX must now give a commencement address that ties Aristotle to the modern era.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I love the sound of you walking away.

Quite a few of my less musically aware friends have said "Hey Tripp, I wasn't all that down with the first Franz Ferdinand record, so I gave the second one a pass." Well you know what? THAT'S FUCKING CRAZY TALK. That's right kids, check this vid. If you don't like that song, then I probably hate you.

It's the only thing that slowly stops the ache

OK kids, just so you don't think I have my tongue eight inches up the asses of the guys at Dogfish, I have to say I found Immort Ale to be NOT good at all. You might say that I should have been wary when the label said it had an "oak" flavor. If you ever hadve tried some Lagavulin and had that smack-in-the-face peat flavor, then you know what to expect in the Immort Ale. Yuck-tas-tic if you ask me, but then I like the clean flavor of the other Dogfish beers. I shoulda bought the Golden Shower.

Thank all the good in the world that I also purchased a bottle of Lagunitas Shut Down Ale, which meets the regular Lagunitas standards. The beer is fine, but the story is more interesting. Apparently, some folks were smoking the wacky tabacky at the brewery which led to a raid. As the label says "Whatever. We're Still Here."

Did you know that Kim Gordon once dated Danny Elfman? Yes, it is true, as I learned at Beulahland yesterday. It remains unknown whether he hung them from his car aerial (one zillion cool points to those who get this reference.)

What I like about you

More fun with movie trailers. This one is quite funny.

Tension grows in Afghanistan

Here's a pair of items to bring you down.

For one, George Crile, author of Charlie Wilson's War has died. This would be my second favorite book on the American relationship with Afghanistan. Ghost Wars gets the top spot because it is far more comprehensive. If you have to pick one (and let's face it, how many people read more than one book on this subject?) I would recommend Ghost Wars. Still, Charlie Wilson's War has much to recommend it. Charlie Wilson is a colorful figure. He served as a Representative from Texas and, if the book is to be believed, is largely responsible for upgrading the covert campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He loved women and carousing and that really comes through in the book. If you like wild tales of intrigue and back room politics, you will like it.

Michael Scheuer has a rather depressing Q&A with Foreign Policy magazine. His Imperial Hubris is an interesting read on why Al Qaeda wants to come and get us.


Watch your TV screens today for the detonation and sinking of the USS Oriskany, an 888 foot long Korean War era aircraft carrier. It's going to be made into an artificial reef off of Pensacola. Here is what it looked like as they readied it for its new life as a reef. I think the Discovery Channel show sounds cool. I expect the sinking to be on Youtube and Google Video by the end of the day.

Update: Sinking ships got me thinking about Alang, the beach in India where people rip ships apart for the scrap. They go to India because of the country's lax environmental laws and low wages. Also because it is unprofitable to do it in the West, so no one does. I found it on Google Maps, where you can see the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau awaiting its fate. Click around and you will see a large variety of ships sitting in shallow water.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

We all scream, affiliated with the contributors to the NPR show the Splendid Table, has some restaurant reviews worth checking out. Officially I think it supposed to be food you would grab on a road trip, but most of the places fall into the scruffy looking, but good food serving restaurant category.

One of the recent posts concerns a Maine ice cream spot. The reviewers rhetorically ask why ice cream tastes best in New England. I'm not sure it tastes best, but it is astounding how much ice cream is located in this chilly corner of the nation. Boston is absurdly rich in ice cream, with Toscanini's (my fave), Herrell's (very good, but watch out for Peppermint, it tastes like a fistful of Altoids) Christina's and others. Every random place I have stopped in Maine has been excellent as well. Portland does very well by gelato but it is definately minor league in American style ice cream.

Not standing up for the little guy

Tyler Cowen has a Slate article on the decline of the independent (and generally speaking) used bookstore. I agree that the rise of the superstore is a good thing. Few markets have anything like Powell's. Instead they have small, poorly stocked stores with limited choice. Today, nearly every major metro has a Borders or Barnes and Noble where you can find almost any book you want.

Still I do like the character of the independent bookshop. It just has to earn your custom, as the really good ones do.

Cowen also tells people to head down to the library, to which I can only add "Huzzah!"

Monday, May 15, 2006

Open up the seven seals, the beast has come

Neill told me not to watch Dominion, but I had it from Netflix so I gave it a chance. I shouldn't have. Lame lame lame. It isn't scary, it is anti-scary in places thanks to the use of really weak CGI. And hyenas always make me think of the Lion King. It isn't all that spooky either. It starts off somewhat interesting with an ancient Christian church found far outside the historical Christendom. Then it gets boring. There is some passably interesting stuff on the nature of evil and why God allows it to exist in the world. We get a Sophie's Choice like Nazi intro to help us get it.

The only interesting thing about the movie is that it was released twice, in forms by two different directors. The one called Exorcist the Beginning is action oriented while Dominion is the more thoughtful one. I say save your devil movie dollars for the upcoming Omen remake or better yet just watch Prince of Darkness.

By the way, were you aware that Saturn Awards existed? These are awards for sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies. I saw a mention on the Prince of Darkness page.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

For a political blog, Political Animal has some decent stuff on books. Here Kevin gives his take on this year's Hugo nominees (avert your eyes, non-nerds) . I'm sad he did not care for Spin (the book not the so-so magazine). I've only read Old Man's War, which I loved, but I am also unsure that it is Hugo worthy. Mostly because I think the Hugo should go to a more serious book, but it was a lot of fun, so I won't be mad if it wins.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Can you hide them from the waiting world?

I saw this bit on the best TV Moms on and it make me think of books about mothers. I'm not talking about the mommy wars books, but rather fiction on the subject. I am mostly drawing a blank, but I did come up with Perrotta's Little Children. Even that is more about relating to other parents than being a mother. It's odd that I can't pick one out, what is a good one?

Yeah, but nobody searches

Here's some exciting news for those that like spy novels. Bob Baer, author of a bleak book about Saudi-American relations has written a 9/11 novel. The Powell's review says its not all that well written, but that Baer's extensive CIA experience sets the book apart.

Speaking of American-Saudi relations, I hear this new book is good.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The kind you find in a second hand store

Finally dropped the cash on a Dogfish Head Fort. Normally beer is not a considered purchase, but when it costs $16 for a large bottle, you take care. Anyway, it's a very good beer. It's one of their "big" beers, meaning it has a high alcohol content, but unlike Hair of the Dog, it doesn't taste too much of alcohol. This particular beer is brewed with raspberries which gives it a nice fresh fruit taste. It's not really sweet, but the flavor comes through. The high alcohol/raspberry combo may turn off a lot of drinkers, but try this one, it is so smooth.

This one, like most Dogfish, is hard to find on the West Coast. Here in PDX, you can get it at Belmont Station and Beaumont Market. The Beaumont Market cooler is small, but well stocked. You can (almost) always get the Dogfish 90 minute IPA or some strange Lagunitas you've not seen before. They carry a range of Belgians, high end American micros as well as your standards. The people who run it are quite friendly as well.

Now I’m bored and old

I'm about halfway through Never Let Me Go, the most recent Kazuo Ishiguro book. My wife isn't a fan of his books, because as she puts it, they are stories about people who waste their lives. I'd put a little differently saying they are books about people in servitude, often to something they don't really understand. In Remains of the Day, a proper British butler loses a chance at love to serve a less than savory man. In When We Were Orphans, a man risks his life trying to understand his missing parents.

In this book, the main character is in permanent servitude. She and all her friends grew up in a school for organ donors. That is to say, these people were born to provide organs for others. Some serve as "Carers" for those who have donated a few too many and others just donate. I'm not revealing too much in saying this as it comes out rather soon. So far, it's quite good, I'm liking as much as those other two.

You are sleeping, you do not want to believe

I thought this NYT Book Review article was interesting and somewhat frustrating. Seems that "200 prominent writers and critics" are in lockstep regarding the best writers of the last 25 years (and willing to stretch well beyond 25 years to include John Updike). I know lists like these are intended to generate controversy, but I notice a couple of trends that bother me. The first is the general absence of novels in which the plot is at all important (Beloved being a notable exception) in favor of novels that seem intended to reflect the angst of the period about which they are written. Are plot and storyline really dead? Jonathan Franzen and Tom Wolfe can be a little irritating in their sanctimony about the "fate of the American novel" but I have to say I'm on their side when it comes to this issue.

The second is the scary orthodoxy of this list. I look at this list and wonder if any of these people actually read White Noise. Perhaps I missed something, but wasn't White Noise a bit, ummm, completely f--ing obvious? Really, do you even have to read the book after reading the Amazon summary? And is every single thing that Philip Roth and Don Delillo wrote over the last 25 years really better than, say, Ironweed, A Thousand Acres, Crossing to Safety (sorry Tripp) or _____________ [insert your favorite novel here]? Is it too much to ask for even one young novelist to appear on this list? I'd nominate Jonathan Lethem but admit freely there is a lot of room for the token youthful presence. Don't get me wrong, I like Roth but The Counterlife and Operation Shylock are the same damn book. Come to think of it, so are all of Updike's books so perhaps that is the trick.

Okay, whale away at me for being too dumb to get it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

She's no good to me dead

Serenity is well worth watching. It's a better science fiction movie than the Star Wars prequels (not saying much I know.) It was written and directed by the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which should be enough for some of you. I liked it for a number of reasons. For one, the bad guys are realistic. As they put it, they pursue evil in order to achieve a worthy (to them) goal. The main guy is appealling (if evil) and reminds me of an Iain M Banks Special Circumstances Operative. The good guys are a bunch of rogues cast adrift after a war they lost. They end up helping a woman with a secret. Said woman is pursued by the evil operative. Chaos ensues. It's important to note that although the movie is based on a tv show, I have yet to see it, but enjoyed the movie thoroughly.

For another, the special effects are limited, which means people are walking around real places or real sets, as opposed to green screen sets. It's amazing how much of a difference this makes. There are of course some space fights and some chases, but these are also limited which prevents the mind numbing effect of the recent Star Wars movies.

Finally the dialogue is nice. The characters talk like real people instead of sounding like high schoolers in a drama production. When someone begins talking pompously, someone else deflates them. It's minor but it adds to the enjoyment.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Where are the nerds?

Apparently I belong in Portland, or Austin Texas. I ran a search for "george rr martin" in the new google trends tool. The first city was Austin and the second Portland. The biggest country was Ireland! (thanks to marginal revolution for pointing out the new tool) Star Trek is apparently still very cool in Croatia. Band marketers can see where the excitement is too. The New Pornographers get a lot of hits in Madison for example. There is historical info too, so you can see that interest in President Reagan skyrockted around the time of his death, and then quickly settled into the same pattern. So much you can do with this one.

Miles Standish proud

Jonathan Yardley has a column on the new Nathaniel Philbrick book. It's entitled Mayflower, and because of the subject matter of his previous book, I assumed it would concern the sea voyage and nothing else. As the column and the Powell's site indicates, it is actually a history of the first fifty years of the Plymouth colony and it includes the devastating but little known King Phillip's War. I have another earlier book on that subject, but I imagine the Philbrick book will be far more readable.

Another author worth reading

Jonathan Carroll is one of those guys I have being meaning to read and, thanks to a gift from Steve, I finally read one, Land of Laughs. Now don't click away, but this book is a fantasy novel set in the modern day USA. This doesn't mean that hordes of orcs and elves come crashing into the modern way, but rather that a normal story begins to take on fantastical elements. This fellow is like Tim Powers or Jonathan Lethem. Lethem's site is crazy, check it out, click the glove compartment link, which includes short pieces like this one on Jim Carroll's "People Who Died".

All three authors tell interesting stories and use fantastical elements to do so. This particular story is about relationships, particularly with fathers. There is also the challenge of finding out the real life of your heroes. In this case, two people learn that their favorite children's author led a very odd life in small town Missouri. The main character is just this side off unlikable, as we get to see all of his behavior, which is often childish or foolish. This makes him all the more believable which is important in a story with a talking dog.

Just barely on topic, this children's book about rhyming names with food is popular in my house right now. And you've probably seen this already, but this is quite funny and entirely work safe.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

For real cries

I haven't posted a video in awhile, so here's one. It's a song called "For Real" by a band called Okkervil River. If you were to draw a triangle between the Silver Jews, Nick Cave (or Will Oldham?) and Jimmy Eat World, this song would be somewhere close to the middle. The lyrics may be a bit over the top/silly for some, but I like the song a lot.

There once was an empire chase

Coming Anarchy*, a international politics blog, has a nice piece on the new Bowden book and the web-based marketing plan behind it. There is even a Bowden blog where he fields questions and comments. While some may scoff at the new ways marketers are getting at us, I rather like all this additional information surrounding the book.

*The blog titles references the Kaplan book of the same name, but Kaplan himself is not associated with the blog.

Where high and low brow collide

No, I don't mean middle brow fiction. Instead I mean the People/US magazine elements of novelist Peter Carey's divorce.

The democratic-communist relationship won't stand in the way of the Islamic force

I mentioned that I ran out of reading material on a recent flight. One item I managed to find in the rather barren Phoenix airport was a recent Atlantic magazine with a Mark Bowden article. The article concerns the Iranian hostage crisis and the failed rescue attempt. While most Atlantic articles are not available online, this one is, and has a number of multimedia features. As part of the press tour for his book on the crisis, Bowden had this interview on Fresh Air. I was going to pass on the book, but after the interview and article, I am all up on it again.

I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby

Dark Water is to The Ring what Veruca Salt is to the Breeders. (we could play this all day) Both are remakes of Japanese horror movies that feature children in peril and creepy environs meant to give us the jibblies. One follows the other and feels a bit derivative and underwhelming. The Ring is excellent and works well both in the original and the American version. I can't speak to the Japanese Dark Water, but the American one just isn't scary or compelling enough to warrant recommendation. Just like Veruca Salt it has its pleasures. The acting is good with a surprisingly strong supporting cast. I thought that Jennifer Connelly was far better in the tormented mother role than you usually get in horror movies. Still, there just wasn't enough creepiness in the thing for me.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Georgetown SSP

Okay, someone got here because of I mentioned the Security Studies Program at Georgetown. Here is my take on it. Excellent program, great professors and great students. Like any MA you need some self-direction. Those that are happiest tend to be full timers as they can take advantage of more on-campus presentations and more time with fellow students. You also need to be aggressive in getting intel on the courses you like. If you do that, much joy will follow. Whenever I look at the new course list, I sigh a little. I never had the chance to take a Michael Scheuer class on Al Qaeda for example.

There is a book about New Orleans

Now for the negative. Usually I pack enough books for a plane trip that I should be able to have something to read other than the Skymall catalog. this time I was stuck with one that simply failed and another towards which I was ambivalent. At least I had Land of Laughs, which was great.

The first one is Confederacy of Dunces. It's a fish out of water scenario with a man in 1969 New Orleans who feels he should be an aristocrat in medieval times stuck in our dreadful era. He is a pain to all those around him and talks in a pedantic and annoying manner. Maybe it changed but I flipped around and the main character continued to annoy me. I'm not one of these people who has to identify with the main character in order to enjoy it. I'd rather have repellent than annoying so this wasn't for me. The story of the book and its author are interesting, so you might find this worth reading. I should note I am deeply in the minority on this one, the 808 mostly postive reviews on Amazon certainly stand against my lonely view. I take consolation in the fact that neither Melissa nor Steve could finish it.

The other book is Cloud of Sparrows, set in 1862 Japan. We have a minor Japanese lord vying power while a spymaster opposes him. There is also a group of Westerners arrived for a variety of reasons, both obvious and hidden. There is a lot to like about this one, namely the descriptions of late Tokugawa Japan. I am putting it down though, which means it is not likely to be picked back up.

Look at my life, I'm a lot like you were

Alright, so first with the friendly. Old Man's War is an updated Heinlein novel. Specifically it reads like Starship Troopers being written by a very optimistic Richard Morgan. It is set a few centuries in the future, where Earth is a backwater. Senior citizens are recruited to join the powerful Colonial Forces, with the chance at being young again. Our recent Medicare recipients are quickly thrown into some really rather nasty battles. The Morgan like feel comes from the brutal battle descriptions and unpleasant view of galactic society. It is happy Morgan though, because the author doesn't dig too deep into the unpleasant reality or allow the characters to dwell on it too long. He also has a few interesting technological ideas. The reviews of this book have been largely positive. The one negative one I read focused on the fact that society 200 years from now is very similar to our own. Large states and their corporate partners engage in large scale war involving soldiers and space ships. If you want a future society that has developed in a revolutionary rather than evolutionary path then look towards books by Ken MacLeod among others. If you want an intelligent space shoot em up, you will find few better than this one.

A nice day to...start again

It is surely a sign of my growing age that what I may most remember about this weekend's wedding is the fact that I forgot my tuxedo. And realized this fact about 30 mins before I got on the bus to go the church. For getting me his in a super fast time, may a shower of blessings fall upon family Kay. While there was little in the way of feats of drinking or illstarred hookups, we did get cracking on the karaoke. When NBK and I broke into a duet of REO's "Keep on Loving You," there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

I look forward to the plane ride east as I know I will get lots of reading done, but on this trip I managed a net increase in books. I finished Old Man's War (short review- awesome, more later) and decided to put aside a few more (again more later on those...) but thanks to the generosity of Harris and Steve and the fine books at Black Swan, I now have Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, Eliott Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity and Ha Jin's War Trash. Lots of meaty lit to make up for the crap I have been reading.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Look at the birds up in the trees

Sarah Weinman has some info on Mo Hayder, author of particularly nasty serial killer novels. I started Bird Man, but found it a little too icky for my taste. It could have been that I had just finished another mystery novel and was sitting quite dazed in an airport terminal. Or maybe I just didn't like it.

Where I cross the bridge to the water fountains

Those familiar with Portland (OR not ME) should check out this older Shins video. In it a kid skips school and goes on a long walk around the city. You will dig the locales.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wait, they don't love you like I love you

Via Kevin Drum, I see that some sample questions from the National Geographic-Roper Survey of Geographical Literacy is out. Not terribly hard. Ok, it's not hard at all. If you want hard, try the Map of the Modern World class at Georgetown. It'll make your eyes bleed.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

By Jingo!

Retired Major General Robert Scales takes a swipe at the authors of Cobra II, saying we can't judge the war until its done and notes that three years into World War 2, you might also have taken a pessimistic look. I agree, to a point, with his first concern. Iraq may still be winnable, but the public seems to have given up. I think using World war 2 as an analogue is unfair as the US was clearly winning in 1944. Consider the state of the world in Dec 1941 The Axis was truly aggressive with parts of China, the Soviet Union, France, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (all French Indochina,) Greece, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all under occupation. Not too mention puppet regimes in Hungary, Thailand, Romania and Bulgaria (and maybe Finland.) Our current war in Iraq is entirely preventative, which is completely unlike WW2.

It does bear comparison to the Spanish-American war, which ended tidily for the US. Secretary of State Hay called it a "Splendid Little War" although I've read he meant this ironically. That quick conventional victory led to the drawn out fight for the Philippines that led to over 4,000 US combat deaths. It's a little surprising that some who support a war of civilizations against Muslims think this war was just boffo, and circulate a possible urban legend about Black Jack Pershing and his treatment of the Moros. Despite the jingo tone of the book, I highly recommend Max Boot's Savage Wars of Peace for an accessible history to the period.

Now Scales is no hack, which means we should at least listen to his perspective. He is a respected scholar who has headed the Army War College. He wrote this book on how firepower is not always useful in limited war. If you don't mind 300 page PDFs you can get it for free here. I just think he could have made his argument more convincing even with an analogy to 1864 rather than 1944.

Lost and found

For me the book recommendations come from trusted friends or booksellers. I've said before that the Powell's recommendations are top notch, even out at the airport locations. Tyler Cowen, economist and leading critic of DC restaurants, just posted some books he has been reading. I and, I think most of you, will be most interested in the Book of Lost Books, which is a series of essays on books that were lost or never finished. Check out this quote from a review to get a sense of the sort of things in the book.

In the case of Herman Melville, Kelly has unearthed a gem: a novel called Agatha that remained unwritten by two great novelists — Melville himself, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who passed the project back and forth, each encouraging the other. Melville was in possession when the music stopped, but although among his papers at his death they found Billy Budd, of Agatha there was no trace.

Talk about fascinating. Last night reader CG chastised me for too much sci-fi of late, I hope this puts me back on the good list.

Monday, May 01, 2006

First you take the nuts and then you crush them

Cybele at Candyblog has a nearly exhaustive review of the Reese's line. She is spot on with the comments on the double chocolate Reese's. It is just a Reese's with less peanut butter flavor. My first exposure to the chocolate peanut butter combo was with High's Ice Cream chocolate peanut butter flavor known as Charlie Brown. While there are still High's stores, there is no more High's ice cream. How do I know? Because this guy has done some serious investigating.

Coming down the mountain

I so like happy surprises and The Wall by Jeff Long, was a happy surprise. I wasn't too keen on his recent efforts, but I thought this one was quite good. This was one of the rare books that can make interesting a subject that is normally of only middling interest. Like Positively Fifth Street did for poker, this one made extreme rock climbing interesting. The plot is simple, two men fleeing ending or ended relationships return to Yosemite's El Capitan (the photo nicely illustrates the challenge) to recapture their youth. Yes, I can imagine every female reading this is rolling her eyes. Anyway it worked for me for two reasons. Long keeps the action quick and moving and focuses on the inherent tension in climbing a sheer rock wall.

The second reason is that he limited his jargon so he could communicate the action without a lot of extra exposition. He used technical terms but in such a way that you could figure out what was going on by context. There are few things that break up a story than multi-sentence explanations of some comment in conversation. Thriller authors are guilty of this all the time. You''ll hear something like "Joe is going to Rome." which will be followed by "Terry thought, Rome, of course, the Eternal City. Founded millennia ago, as myth would have it by two brothers raised by wolves and eventually the center of a great empire...." And so on. I think it is the unnatural nature of this technique that bothers me. If a novel is going to be told in first person, then the text should read like a person talks and thinks and no one thinks in long expository paragraphs. Ok, blowhards might, but blowhards are rarely given the role of first person narrator.