Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coulda been contenders

Here are a few songs that should have successful singles. At least within the range permitted by the band's overall fandom. All good songs, which you should seek out.

Stone Temple Pilots - Hollywood Bitch. Now I generally am not a huge STP fan, but this one has a really good hook and the lyrics are great. This one came with the general decline of the band, so perhaps it was too late.

Devo - The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise. First of all, I am amazed there is a video for this one. It's from their second album which went artier before they went mainstreamish with Freedom of Choice. Anyway, it is a great one

Killers Smile Like You Mean It. I am cheating a bit, as this was a single in Europe, but not over here. The video wasn't even released in the US. I venture to say this is their finest effort.

Pearl Jam Don't Gimme No Lip. OK, I know why this wasn't a single. It was made after Pearl Jam made their retreat from the public eye. It is a B-side. Stone Gossard rather than Eddie Vedder sings. And there is profanity So it is destined for obscurity, which is too bad as it is one of the more rocking songs PJ ever made.

Don't look at me that way

Dammit. The hopelessly derivative song Munich has successfully infiltrated my defenses. Sounding like Interpol at their most Joy Division-esque, I should look askance, but the catchiness has proven too much for me. The next thing you know, people are going to catch me singing Fox on the Run.

All the snobbery covering that paragraph makes me look like a Pitchfork writer. Except if I was a Pitchfork writer I would have found a way to reference the Estonian New Wave metal movement of the first half of 1996. If you want more Pitchfork bashing, be sure to read this Slate piece. The time may be ripe for a good competitor to Pitchfork.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bits and pieces

Bookdaddy taunts Mitch Albom a second time.

The Guardian asked the literary set (and others) to name their fave reads of 2006. Given the range of people asked you hear about the latest Richard Ford (whose work John Banville compares to Proust's), but also about books like The Worst of All Evils, the Fight Against Pain.

The Washington Post likes the new Barry Unsworth. There is also an enjoyable comparison review of two new Al Qaeda books. It's written by Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris and one unafraid to speak his mind, as seen here: "One can only hope that Louise Richardson's What Terrorists Want will prove the last shriek from the academy's antiquated terrorism experts, who are reluctant to admit that al-Qaeda poses a unique menace

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You call it video, you're full of...

Check out this live video of Minor Threat's "In My Eyes." The sound sucks, but I love how intimate the show clearly was. So the only question is, which is the better song, In My Eyes or Filler? I vote In My Eyes.

For he's a jolly good fellow

John Scalzi writes some great science fiction, but it also appears that he is a swell fellow. He is making one of his recent books, the Ghost Brigades, available for free to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did the same thing, with a different book, last year. This guy is like school on Monday, all class.

He's also funny, as proven by his top ten least successful holiday specials. This one has something for everyone. Ayn Rand gets mocked: The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts -- and therefore Christmas -- possible. So does Noam Chomsky: ...explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia.

His new novel is also comedic, while still holding true to his non-jingoistic military adventure roots.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What a bad reader am I

Oh what a bad reader am I. Maybe it is the carnival of eating that comes with the Thanksgiving to Christmas season, but I had a hard time with my books over the weekend. I started the True Believer, but I found the organization a bit annoying. The author makes a point and then has a series of numbered paragraphs that support or explore it. The book claims to describe the true believer mentality which the author associates with totalitarians and the militant religous. Among the shared beliefs are a hatred of the present, a belief that the future will be better with the right action and the sublimation of self into the whole. The dark side of this is that individuals don't matter especially in the pursuit of the idealized future. Hence it is ok to kill, maim or destroy to realize the future. Very intersesting idea, but once I digested it, I didn't want to proceed.

I also read some of Empires of the Word, which is a history of the world's major languages. My problem is my uneven interest in the world languages. I was interested in the rise and fall of Latin, why Greek didn't take in SW Asia and how Chinese has stayed the same, but other areas were of less interest. For me this was a book to hop around and not to read cover to cover. This always makes me feel guilty.

So what did I read instead? A monster sf novel in the form of Judas Unchained. This one has some issues (mostly in the form of world creation) but it is enthralling. And very long. I also spent time with the Geographer's Library, which is another literary thriller about a MacGuffin with a rich history. This one is on the remainder stack at Powell's, which is too bad (for the author if not the reader). I like it, despite a somewhat peculiar organization.

Speaking of Powell's, I visited the new Beaverton location. It's quite nice. Very spacious and relaxing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Book reviewing

The Telegraph has a bit bemoaning the rise of the Internet book reviewer. It's a bit tongue in cheek, but you can tell the author hates the notion of these non-professionals coming and muddying the pristine pond of the paid reviewers. He also seems to dislike the speed of their rise. He makes a good point that much of the reviewing on Amazon is worthless, but anyone can tell that simply by reading them. I imagine most people take a quick look at the overall rating and then try to gauge whether the numbers supporting have any merit.

And its hardly like the professional space is perfect. Far too many book reviews end up as a means to either showcase the reviewer's expertise or to highlight their personal interest. This Washington Post review of Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah does discuss the book in places, but mostly serves as a means to ruminate on Iran.

Still the very best reviews will come from people who can best explain why you should or should not read the book. In non-fiction, this will be someone who can place the book amongst its peers and relate the ability of the author to sustain his or her argument. In fiction, the reviewer should describe the success in literary and entertainment terms. How they do that is their own business. The professionals will normally be better. This William McNeill review of Max Boot's new book is an excellent example. But I learn great things about books from any number of bloggers too. So can't we all just get along?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Holiday book shopping

When buying books for someone, I am torn between wanting to find something that might surprise them and just giving them something I know they want. At the end the most important thing is that they actually read the book. Do you take the risk of something surprising or the safe path of an Amazon wish list. If it is on a wish list, they will probably read it. If it is a surprise, maybe it will end up at Goodwill.

If you are feeling like taking a chance have a look at the NY Times 100 notable books of the year. I was reminded of some interesting titles like the new John McPhee book on interstate trucking. I'd also forgotten about the new Thomas McGuane short story collection.

If you want to break free of the focus on the latest and greatest, the Times also links to prior year notable books. Here we have the 1998 best of science fiction. Lovers of eco-scifi might want this older Kim Stanley Robinson. The best of 1994 has a number of heavy weights including Robert Wright's book on evoltionary psychology, The Moral Animal. The best mysteries of 2000 has the altogether excellent The Bottoms, a tale of backwoods racial injustice.

The risk with these older books is that they might have already read them. You can always ask the spouse/significant other/friend, but not all will know. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


If you have people on your gift giving list who like World War 2 sea stories, take a look at At All Costs. It details the story of the SS Ohio in Operation Pedestal. The operation was a succesful attempt, with a very high cost, to resupply the island of Malta. The island was important because it sat between Italy and Axis controlled Libya, and thereby made resupply of Rommel's forces difficult. The location also made it hard to resupply the island.

The losses on the Allied side were great, they included an aircraft carrier an two cruisers. One of the most important ships was the Ohio, a tanker with desperately needed fuel. As you can imagine, the Germans and the Italians tried very hard to sink it and as this amazing photo shows, they nearly succeded. I for one think this would be a popular gift, for the right person.

Sword and shield, bone and steel

One of the leading lights in fantasy novels is George R.R. Martin. The great difference between his books and those of authors like Robert Jordan is the sense reality. Now, we are talking fantasy novels, so you will find magic, gods, and all manner of non-real things. The reality I mean is the focus on how people and societies operate. Martin and others like him don't focus on great battles between good and evil, but instead on the rivalry for power. In Martin's case the rivalry is between noble houses all seeking dominance of their continent.

Another difference is the cleanliness or lack thereof. So much of fantasy has the heroes escaping peril time and again and a unreal sense that everything is nice, clean and orderly. In Martin's books, people die, lots of them. Some are characters, some are the unfortunates upon whose land wars are fought. People are also ugly because of disease, war wounds, lack of hygiene and other realistic touches. Some people don't like this, but for me it makes for a more believable tale.

Right now I am reading the truly epic (ten volume) Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. I just finished Deadhouse Gates, which was a big step above its predecessor. There was less confusion and also more effective story telling. Like Martin, Erikson's world is not beset by tides of evil, but it is beset by an aggressive empire which is facing counterattack and rebellion the world over. On top of that, a number of gods play out their own games amongst the human squabbling. There are numerous wars and they are terrible. The death toll among major characters and the population in general is amazing. Its not all bleak thought, there are interesting characters that rise above the suffering.

You can probably already tell if you would like this one. If you are wavering, you probably won't. If you have found that fantasy novels are a bit too cheesy, you may like this one, or rather these..

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Music for the little ones

I don't mind kid's CDs. Some are really rather catchy. I particularly like They Might Be Giant's "No!" and "Here Come the ABCs." Sometimes, you really need to hear grown-up music. So every once and awhile I pull out an adult CD and give it a spin. Here are some winners and losers.

Go-Gos Vacation. It's hard to lose with bouncy 80s pop. If I had shown them the water ski video I imagine it would have gone even farther.

Cracker Happy Birthday to Me. Because every child loves a tale of a drunken ne'er do well.

Pavement Shady Lane. Only jackasses don't like this song. And my kids aren't jackasses.

Samhain Archangel. Not popular, not popular at all. I asked them if it was scary and they said it was a little.

REM Driver 8. Big surprise here. So melodic, so bouncy and so about trains. Nope. No love for the boys from Athens.

Anybody who is not Bob Dylan. Any Bob Dylan song. The kids pretty much hate any non-Dylan version of a song. Their dislike of Neil Young's Blowin' in the Wind is visceral. Like most people, they probably want the original, not the cover, but Dylan is easily the favorite. Pretty soon they will get into arguments about whether he was better before or after he went electric.

Robert Altman

Director Robert Altman has died. His film the Player is one of my all time favorites. I guess now I should finally get around to watching Nashville.

One smart politician

After reading/hearing this humorous bit, I can see why people think Senator Obama might have what it takes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New one

The NYT now has a blog called the Lede. So far it's good and rather wide ranging. For example, here is a bit on the gay penguin book.

Monday stuff

This (old) Powells interview with Jonathan Lethem is good. It's quite a bit meatier than your normal author interview and has Lethem describing his progression of books. It makes me want to go back and read the rest of his books. I can't decide if I like Motherless Brooklyn or Gun with Occasional Music better. Probably Motherless Brooklyn.

In a way not dissimilar to the discussion of names in Freakonomics, the teacher behind Clapping the Erasers talks about David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise transferred to Bobos in the Bronx. Whatever you think of Brooks's NYT columns, I think you should consider reading Bobos in paradise. His description of the merging of the bohemian and bourgeois mentalities in today's upper middle and middle classes is just excellent.

Thomas Ricks reviews the re-release of A Savage War of Piece. I am glad I picked up my used copy for ten buck as opposed to 150 bucks that Ricks mentions.

The Thirteenth Tale is one of the most successful literary books of the year. I love reviews that allow for the reader's taste. This one from the Telegraph says "The result, depending on your literary tastes, is either dismayingly unoriginal or refreshingly old-fashioned. This reader tended to the latter view."

SFSignal has posted Waterstone's (of the UK) best scifi books of the year. Some are not available here in the US.

It seems it is the season for re-imagining (the new word for remake.) The folks who brought us Battlestar Galactica are now going to try and re-do the Thing, itself redone already. BSG is good enough to make me want to see what they do.

Ian Rankin really, really likes Thomas Pynchon.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Monster fun

If you need a top notch grade B monster movie, look no further than Slither. It's another version of the small town attacked by alien beastie story. It doesn't do anything new, but what it does it does well. It reminds me most of Tremors, another town in peril tale. It's humorous without being a spoof. It is mildly scary, with a shock or two. It is nasty, but not in the eyeballs in a blender mode so popular today. Instead it is nasty in that you just stepped on a slug sort of way. The encouter with things ooey and gooey, which is what the monster is. There's no hidden critique to be discussed or moral issues debated, it's just a fun monster movie. I love monster movies so I really liked it.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bubba Hotep

I watched Bubba Hotep last night. This one doesn't fit any categorization. There is a man who claims to be Elvis (in 2002) living in a West Texas funeral home, his best friend, who is black, claims to be JFK (they dyed him so as better to hide him.0) These two old men have to deal with a mummy who is sucking the souls of the elderly at the home. Elvis is played by none other than Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell. His performance is easily the best part of the movie. Reflective Elvis is not something we often see. Ozzie Davis plays JFK and they make a good team.

The movie doesn't fit categorization because it isn't scary and it isn't silly enough to be a comedy. Instead it is a portrayal of what would happen if two elderly famous people battled a mummy. I laughed quite a bit, although much of it didn't work. You can probably tell already if you want to see it.

A prequel, Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of She Vampires will come out in 2008. I'm sure I will end up watching it.

Speaking of Campbell I would like to read his If Chins Could Kill, Confessions of a B Movie Actor. There are 185 overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon, although there is a fanboy factor at work I am sure. He followed that with Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Here's a toy I won't be buying this Christmas. It's says 5+, but normally this sort of thing is sold behind a curtain.

Say your prayers little one, don't forget my son, to include everyone

Where have you been all my life Sandman? Talk about an amazing graphic novel. Sandman is right up there with the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns. In the latest escalation of editions, DC is putting out the Absolute Sandman. Clocking in at ninety nine smackers, this is a tough one. Of course here in Portland not only do we have Powell's but we have the Multnomah County Library which believes that comic books that cost a c-note are a good call.

So what's so good about it? Neil Gaiman for one. The same Neil Gaiman who wrote the excellent Neverwhere and American Gods (among others) got his start writing this comic. The old Sandman was a standard superhero, while Gaiman's is one of the Endless. A being representing complex metaphysical states like Desire, and Death. Sandman is the Dream and he since he is eternal, Gaiman can set his stories in any age he chooses. While it is episodic there are long term narrative arcs as well. And most are quite interesting. Gaiman brings to the comic the same creativity, humor and darkness that you find in his novels. And there are lots more comics than novels. I'd like to see other writers get into this game.

One of the selling points of the Absolute Edition is that the book has been recolored. I didn't read the original so I can't compare, but the art looks excellent.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Vietnam

I thought I'd follow Tripp's post on Vietnam literature with a few recommendations, some of which may be less familiar than the books suggested below (certainly less known than Sheehan's great Bright Shining Lie).

Michael Herr's Dispatches is probably the best of the Vietnam books and certainly ranks among the best war memoirs ever written. If that sounds over the top, so be it - read it and make up your own mind. Herr writes in a sometimes literally hallucinatory manner that requires a bit of acclimation but is very successful at conveying the bewilderment and loss that seem to cling to every person to emerge from Vietnam. His set piece on Khe Sanh is stunningly good. One of the few books that I have read multiple times (at least since becoming an adult - my six or so times through Lord of the Rings in junior high do not count).

John Laurence wrote The Cat from Hue nearly thirty years after he left Vietnam (where he served as a correspondent). This one is a bit overlong but I've always been surprised that it does not have a wider audience. I found myself thinking about it for days after finishing it and still take it down from the bookshelf to reread some of his passages.

Tobias Wolff is better known for his (overrated, in my opinion) memoir This Boy's Life, but his collection of Vietnam essays In Pharoah's Army is quite good, with two or three pieces that are jaw-dropping. "A Federal Offense" is worth the price of admission by itself, particularly for those among us who are fortunate enough to have children. Wolff is particularly good at surprising you with humor in themidst of some truly awful situations (a trait NOT shared by the other three authors listed here). I am a sucker for a good title, as well, and Wolff has a great one here.

Finally, William Prochnau's history of war reporting during the early years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Once Upon a Distant War, is a fine book for the story it tells. It gives an overview of the build-up in South Vietnam that reads like a novel. What puts it over the top, though, is the portrait it offers of the young war reporters we have come to know as authors of their own well-known books of reportage, such as Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam, or from other theaters, such as Peter Arnett. The portraits of the young reporters are fascinating: Arnett, whom I knew only as a reporter in Desert Storm, was completely fearless and rescued his fellow reporters from street violence and intimidation more than once. It is particularly interesting to see that authors like Halberstam and Sheehan, who are now known as Vietnam protesters, began the war as ardent anti-Communists and only broke with the official U.S. line when it became apparent that they were being misled and used to mislead their home audiences. If only the media today had those kind of stones.

Book fun for the morning

Bookdaddy says "Fie!" to all the buzz around the new Pynchon. Concur, Bookdaddy, Concur.

Mr. Daddy also talks about the three types of spy stories and then says "Fie!" to Robert Littell. That's helpful to me as I was trying to decide between reading Charles McCarry and Littell.

You've no doubt heard about the Wizard of Oz-Dark Side of the Moon concept. The idea is that Pink Floyd made the album to be played as an alternate soundtrack. Testing this requires having both on at the same time. This person has handily placed a recording of both on Google video. Get ready to say "woah" a lot.

Hannibal Lechter is dead to me, but in case you have a jones for another Lechter book, Thomas Harris has an excerpt on his website.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Those who ignore history

Well now I think I need to go back and read all the Vietnam books I have been meaning to read. There are many ways in which the Iraq War is not like the Vietnam War, but in both cases we see mismangement of the war , a military command that doesn't serve its advisory role correctly, a domineering and visionary SecDef, tactics that don't match the enemy and, worse, lose the hearts and minds, a misreading of the local actors and political situation and a disconnect between military action and the ultimate political goals. All of these similarities make me want to revisit the Vietnam War to see if there is anything that can learned.

A Bright Shining Lie. How have I not read this? I own a copy of this Pulitzer winner, but it remains a future read. Sheenan uses the career of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann to show the many failures of American policy in South East Asia. Thanks to Vann's extensive experience there, the book can be read as a history of the entire war. An excellent format for a future book on Iraq.

A Better War. This one is controversial. It argues that, militarily, the war was won in the early 70s, thanks to a change in military leadership. Sorley argues this was not understood by elites in the US who pressed for an end no matter what. This one is (was?)popular in DC recently because it argued that you could turn around a poor military policy with a better one. Critics say this is just the stab in the back theory recast for Vietnam, and there is a point there. Still I think this one might have value.

They Marched into Sunlight. This book tells the tale of twodays in 1967, in Vietnam and in Madison, Wisconsin. One story concerns protesters and the other concerns a unit that was ambushed and fought a two day battle. In this way, the book is meant to capture the whole war. Sounds interesting.

Street without Joy. This one is actually about the French war in Vietnam. I believe it is the one of the best accounts in English.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tell me why, tell me why, why you have to lie

(via bookslut) I generally discount author blurbs for books, especially in comparison to those of professsional reviews. Here you can see an eggregious example of the untrustworthiness of blurbs.

Big books

Reading a big fantasy novel reminds me of reading Tolstoy. Yes they are both big, but more importantly, for Americans at least, they both require figuring out an alien society and naming conventions that must be read multiple times before they are understood. This person has captures the joys and difficulties of reading Tolstoy. When I read large Russian novels and large fantasy novels, I tend to go with the flow. Instead of puzzling everything out, I tend to keep reading and hope that I will understand what is happening via osmosis. This generally works, although I probably miss out on things.

I am now reading Steve Erikson's Deadhouse Gates, which is excellent so far. Mind, I spent quite a bit of time wrestling with the first book of the series, Gardens of the Moon. You might ask why I would spend so much time on a mere genre novel. I suppose I crave tales of epic adventure, that just aren't made outside of the fantasy genre. From a pure escapist viewpoint, they are hard to beat.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Exile in Guyville

While youtubing the other night, I hit a number of early 90s songs from bands fronted by women. Now, I am generally loath to make a point about singers/band members being male or female. Usually it irritates me. Pandora, an internet radio service I like, has a bad habit of segregating the female bands. So if you select a female led band, you will probably get nothing but female led bands in your playlist. As I said, annoying. Anyway, despite misgivings, here are some really good early to mid 90s songs from bands led by women.

Breeders - Divine Hammer. Everyone loves Kim Deal, and I think it is for the same reasons Boba Fett is so loved. Some people you see and you instictively find cool. So it is with Kim Deal. So much goodness on that particular album. Those merry pranksters set their song about summertime in a snowfield. There is no official video for No Aloha so here is a live version. And we need to throw some Pixies in there, so here's Dig for Fire. Oh and what the hell, I am a nerd so I must link to the nerdiest Pixies song ever, the Happening. Oh for the days when bands sang of the first encounter with alien life.

Garbage - Vow. I generally am not a Garbage fan. I don't dislike them really, but I don't go out of my way to listen. This early song is a real treat though.

Hole - Celebrity Skin. Making fun of Courtney Love is all too easy. So I won't. Instead, check out this underrated song.

Belly - Superconnected. Belly was wrecked by the coming of Fred Durst and his dark tidings of nu-metal. Things went seriously south in popular rock music in the late 90s and songs like this got lost.

Liz Phair - Stratford-on-Guy. If you are relatively young, you may not be aware that at one point Liz Phair was not a purveyor of insipid pop songs with videos that flaunt her good looks. As part of her bad girl images, she now is given to interviews like this one where she recommended her interlocuter get friendly with a mirror. In the past, she made incredible songs with heartfelt lyrics that were true and not cheesy. This particular song is buried on the album but is excellent.

Jen Trynin - Better than Nothing. This one was probably too downbeat for success, with lines like "i'm feeling good, for now, but I know that by tomorrow, I'll probably come around." The video is so 90s with its Slacker vibe. Gas station clerk Jen is really a rocker and while she rocks, the customers wait.

Monday morning links

The Rap Sheet has some good info. It seems Richard Morgan has a new novel coming out (Scroll way down). It is not a Kovacs novel, but it deals with one of Morgan's favorite themes. In this book, we have another technologically created super-soldier who is no longer needed. I suppose this is a evolution of some of hthe questions posed in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or even Battlestar Galatica. Anyway, Morgan writes excellent blends of noir fiction and science fiction along with doses of his non-idealistic leftist viewpoint. I am excited for this one.

The Rap Sheet also has an item on Ian Fleming, be sure to read the linked article called Bond in Torment. Also Hugh Jackman is attempting to build an action movie franchise. It certainly worked for Matt Damon.

Portland Metroblogs has an amusing bit on which global conspiracy is dominating PDX.

How would you like to be described as an "adequately excellent lover"? That's how HP Lovecraft's wife described him. Maybe that is why he wrote stories about going insane.

Boba Fett has a blog, not much action on it though.

Extending the trend to cash in on the Young Adult market China Mieville has a new book for the adolecent set.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fun at others expense

Mario Loyola has become the object of much fun among the left leaning bloggers. Since he is given to making assinine statements, this isn't surprising. Belle Waring at Crooked Timber notes one of his recent gems, where in puzzling over the popularity of Hezbollah, he claims that faced with invasion, Americans would not muster their rifles if Washington said not to do it.

I wonder if anyone has tracked the rise and fall and rise of strength of the outlaw in popular culture in the United States. It takes a number of guises, Johnny Cash's heroes, gansgter rappers, Dirty Harry, everyone in every noir novel, you get the picture. Then we have Dragnet and the forces of order. Both have their adherents in the United States, a point Loyola misses.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Make a nerd happy this year

No right minded nerd (OK, scifi loving nerd, but the overlap is pretty huge) will want to miss The Space Opera Renaissance. This is the gift that keeps on giving, close to 1,000 pages of space adventure stories. The thesis is that space opera began as a term to put down space adventure stories, but was adopted by those who wrote and read them as a banner of pride. The books editors are David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. They also edited Ascent of Wonder, the best scifi collection I have ever read. Flipping through this volume, I saw a lot of good names and spotted a relatively hard to find Iain M Banks tale, which get the right people salivating.

Dropping 1K pages of sf on a non-nerd will get a dirty look, but for the right person this is reading nirvana.

Good airplane book for kids

Most Americans are familiar with the flight stories of the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. And if you are buying books for kids who like planes, they probably have a Wright Brothers and/or Charles Lindbergh book already. Fewer Americans know about Louis Bleriot, the first person to fly over the English Channel. The Glorious Flight is an excellent children's book about Bleriot's flight. The plane that made it across the channel was called Bleriot XI, because Bleriot I thourgh Bleriot X kept crashing and getting destroyed. So in addition to go a good flight story, you get a lesson in perseverance.

On a recent trip to the Evergreen Aviation Museum (a must see if in the Williamette Valley,) we saw a replica of the Bleriot XI, which someone flew onto the museum's airfield. That is one brave pilot, have a look at the photos. The wheels are bicycle tires.

For kids who need an intro to planes I highly recommend Jerry Pallotta's Jet Alphabet and Airplane Alphabet books.

Veteran's Day

Phillip Carter has a good LA Times piece on heroism and Veteran's Day. Call your veteran family members.


Today I should limit myself to miso broth. Yesterday was a bit treat heavy. In the morning, the young lads and I visited Bumblekiss. The Willimette Week reviewer wasn't taken with the place, but I quite liked it. The owners were friendly and advised me that the child plate was really big enough for both my kids, which it was. The food choices were interesting and varied. I opted for what has to be the most decadent thing I have eaten in months, eggnog pancakes, with a cheese, egg and bacon scramble on the side. Very tasty but in a subtle warming way. I see that allrecipes has an eggnog pancake recipe too.

Since the wife is out of town I managed to sneak in her least favorite dessert, clafouti. It's a simple prepartaion, you pour the batter over a fruit, usually cherries. The flavor falls somewhere between bread pudding and crepes. I used the recipe from the Gourmet cookbook (the new edition of which comes with a DVD), but left out the kirsch in the batter, which I think was a mistake. It would have given just a bit more cherry flavor. Here are some other recipes for clafouti.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bring on the body count

I was surprised by the degree to which I liked X-Men 3. The reviews were mediocre and I never get to the theater anymore, so it was almost an afterthought for me. I suppose I was in the mood for a giant mutant fight, which is what you get in the last third of the movie. The movie is not as thoughtful or character driven as the first two, but I found it quite entertaining. A few things stood out to me:

The body count: Dead, lost powers, disappeared, the mutant body count is quite high in this movie. Those who want a canonical movie will be displeased, but it certainly provided for a number of suprises.

The political side: The plot of the movie revolves around a cure for mutants. The creator couldn't stand the fact that he had a mutant son so he developed it to make his son not gay. Ooops. Yes there is a strong subtext about how people treat gays in the movie. You could also read it as fear about Muslims too as Ebert reads it.

The power of the Internet. Juggernaut, one of the bad guys, at one point says to Kitty Pryde, "I'm Juggernaut, bitch," which is a reference to this re-dubbed X-Men cartoon video. Careful with the volume, foul language abounds! Crazy, will we be hearing "Are you laughing be-yotch, Do you find me funny?" sometime soon?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh that's lame, that's very, very lame

Well I should have seen it coming. Looks like the Black Christmas remake is going to suck. How, you ask, can I tell? Two things I saw in the trailer. For one, the voice of Billy is not very scary. Sounds run of the mill really. And (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) you learn the backstory of Billy. You know what? I don't want to know the backstory of Billy.

What makes movies scary is the unknown, the parts of the picture that are left black, the places you have to use your imagination. Movies like the Exorcist, Blair Witch, Session 9 and others leave enough open and hidden to creep you out. Once we learn what led to the scary events, they can be analyzed and understood. I prefer the shrieking terror of the unknown.

On the topic of scary, I was thinking the other day how few songs can tell a scary story. Love is obvs covered, and country and the blues do nicely with tragedy. Pop has the bildungsroman sort of tale down pat. And I guess Frank Black and Esquivel does scifi well. But what about a scary story? The only one I can think of is Nick Cave's Red Right Hand which nicely develops the feeling of growing doom.

Why you got to go and make things so complicated?

I'm not sure if this video makes me want to close my B of A account or put all my money there. All I know I hope this guy got a big raise as he has sold his soul. (thanks, Harris)

Bro, she's got to maintain, cuz an objectivist like her is going insane

I think I have one of the craziest political sites of all time. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand fan, sign 1 of kookiness) is written in such an over the top fashion that I thought it had to be a joke, but then I realized she's real, she means it. Check this example:

I love Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was solid. A straight talking brilliant strategist. He had to take a mid 20th century military, decimated and raped for 8 years by a shortsighted horndog (Clinton), and transform it into a lean, agile state of the art 21st centrury military overnight to go after the post modern 21st enemy. An enemy that has no specific territory, operates in the shadows, kills large numbers of civilians with an incomprehensible barbaric blood lust, and has made Iraq the central front on the war on Islamic fundamentalism. Rumsfeld did it, hands tied by the PC mentality that infected the Bush administration.

There is more madness in here than in Arkham Asylum.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

For your consideration

Since I am somewhat mired in my current books I thought I would discuss an author I consider unjustly little known. JG Farrell, an Englishman, wrote a number of novels, but of greatest interest is his British Empire Trilogy. The first, Siege of Krishnapur, is set during the Indian Mutiny (or as the Indians would prefer, the first war of Indian Independence.) The second, Troubles, is set during the slow expulsion of the British from Ireland. The final volume, the Singapore Grip, is set during the 1942 Japanese conquest of Malaya and Singapore.

The protagonists of all the novels are British and each is confronted by a local (or least regional) rejection of Empire. What sets the books apart is Farrell's characterizations. Rather than setting up the British as cruel conquerers, he shows them as arrogant about their assumed role and completely clueless about the realities or desires of the locals. They aren't bad people, in fact they are often very good people. Thanks to their position as members of the Empire they are put in very bad situations, often not of their own choice. Part of the story is that they remain unaware of what their nationality means to others. With the exception of Troubles, which does give some voice to the local Irish, the books are told nearly entirely from the British side. The advantage is that we see them being increasingly disconnected from reality until it hits them like a two by four.

As a further benefit, these are very well written stories. The action in the Siege of Krishnapur is particularly exciting. I thought the little court dramas of the hotel in Troubles were both amusing and troubling. The Singapore Grip suffers for being a bit too lengthy, but the depiction of the bawdy pre-invasion world is quite something. These novels unlike those with a similar theme by Graham Greene or John Le Carre send their message without telegraphing it or rubbing the readers face in it. When the inevitable crop of Iraq novels appear in a few years I hope someone uses Farrell as a reference point.


Check out this very early interview with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. As the poster notes, its funny to see a Star Wars road show like you might see for any of today's pedestrian efforts.

Speaking of space, if you are an enthusiast, you will be pleased to see that India is looking to get into the manned space program game.

For the Stones fans, have a listen to these outtakes from the Exile sessions.

Here is an interesting map showing the scale of the Iraqi refugee movements. The article upon which it is based is from the most recent Atlantic and is for subscribers only. Don't let that stop you though. See if your employer/local library/alumni association provides free access to Academic Search Premier. If so, you can read the Atlantic and other periodicals for free.

Ha ha!

Here is my favorite reaction to last night's victory results. (only amusing if you are familiar to 80s movies.)

Update: With more nerdy delicious flavor..I give you this.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

This and that

Grumpy Old Bookman finds Robert Harris's Imperium boring. I guess if you need a Cicero fix, you can read Anthony Everitt's bio. It's a pity, I rather liked Harris's Pompeii.

The FT's Gideon Rachman poses a question few have dared ask. Does President Bush read too much?

A really bad sign from Iraq.

Bookslut tells of Ian McKellan providing the reading for a new audiobook version of Odyssey.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Best political ads

That are fake. Take a listen to these fake ads on Marketplace.

Forest Fire

Thanks to my Silver Jews radio station on Pandora, I just heard Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands play Forest Fire. Try the snippet on Amazon. If you are a fan of alt-country, you will like it, I wager.

State of Denial

Bob Woodward's State of Denial is an enjoyable read about a distressing subject. Many of the other major books about the war have focused on problems in Iraq itseld, whether they be applying the wrong military strategy, mismanaging the reconstruction or failing to address the insurgency. This book puts much more focus on the interagency process in Washington, or more appropriately, the lack thereof.

Rumsfeld is the books, in some ways tragic, villain. He is clearly intelligent and perceptive. He is also portrayed as micromanaging and cruel. He appears to be more interested in winning bureaucratic battles than those Iraq. In some sections I was just dumbfounded at how he seemed to block reasonable efforts because they weren't made by "his" people. You also realize that Rumsfeld quest to prove his transformation concept was workable was one of the reasons for the war.

Woodward's books are always gossipy so you get to read what various figures think of each other. David Kay calls Condi Rice the worst national security advisor since the job was created. There are lots of negative labels thrown around in the book.

There are many more subjects covered, including the failures of intelligence (the DIA is made to look rather bad,) the strange hunt for WMD and the role of Prince Bandar (called by the President "my best asshole who knows about the world.) It is all immensely depressing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Odds and ends

The Economist now has a pair of blogs. One is called Democracy in America, and no it's not a de Tocqueville reading group. The other is bit broader and is called Free Exchange.

For those in Portland, Cinema 21 has Sing Along Mary Poppins this week, complete with silly laugh contest and best costume contest. The Oregonian has details as well as info on the movie and book. Many other cities have or have had the show as well. These photos from Tampa show that people really get into it.

Note: If you get crazy with the digital camera, remember to ERASE, or your kids might send this to postsecret.

Bookworld nicely captures the warring instincts to read what one wants to read and to read what one feels one should read. The book at issue, is the Road, which I had planned on not reading. With all these positive reviews, I wonder if shouldn't get a copy myself.

James Ellroy is not modest. "I am a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime writer who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music."

Duck of Minerva discusses using Dr. Strangelove in an international relations class.

Good for Powells.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The real best videos of the 80s

Andrew Sullivan recently asked his readers for the best videos of the 1980s. Somehow these were missed.

Lord of the New Church - Dance with Me. Stiv Bator's idea of flirtation is a bit strange. When he says "The way I want to love you, well, it could be against the law," I don't think he's exaggerating.

Duran Duran - Planet Earth. All by itself, an awesome video and song. However, I was unaware that the Dandy Warhols Last High (also excellent) is an homage to this DD video, from the first shot on to the end.

Sisters of Mercy - This Corrosion. I think technically I prefer Temple of Love, but This Corrosion has a special place in my heart. At the time I failed to understand that this was entirely synth music. I also missed that Eldritch is basically the mystical version of Danzig.

Replacements - Alex Chilton (live.) I'd heard these guys were always too blitzed to play, but they sound pretty good here.

Hoodoo Gurus - What's My Scene. Guilty pleasure.

World Party - Ship of Fools. So great and sadly relevant today.

Adam & the Ants - Prince Charming. The first metrosexual? Apparently he is hoping for a comeback.

Devo - Beautiful World. A little too earnest in its irony, I still like the video for the Boys from Brazil look the lads sport. If you would rather just watch the Ken doll fight the Barbie doll, watch Love without Anger. And actually the chicken imagery in the second video is disturbing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Holy Smokes

Vanity Fair has a lengthy sneak-peek of a article about neoconservatives. It's probably not what you are expecting, the thrust is how angry the neocons are at how badly the Admin has botched things. Here's a taste:

"I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

The ones interviews note that the major players (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bremer, Tenet) were in fact, not neocons, but they dodge the role of neocons like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz. Still, the level of the vitriol is almost shocking.

Out of the doorway the bullets rip, to the sound of the beat

Well, if are up to speed on Lost, you know someone died this week. I wouldn't have been happy with any of the majors going, but I thought this particular person had a lot more interesting things he or she could have done. If you want to know what this interesting person is doing next, acting wise, click here (spoilers, obvs).

Still I have to say that the episode felt like a return to form. The Others are too normal for me, I like the oddity and mystery of the Island, upon which this episode focused. The new Losties aren't doing much for me though.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kill a few minutes

Here is a fun way to waste time and frustrate yourself. But in a good way. Below I have 10 lyrics. Name the first band to play it, the band (in some cases more than 1) that covered it, and the song title. Best score to date is 15. Obviously, checking lyric sites is a no-no.

1) Didnt have to blast him but I did any way, young punk had to pay
2) As I was going over, the Cork and Kerry Mountains (oft covered, but this lyric is specific to one version)
3) Demon I am and face I peel
4) Everybody else in town only wants to bring you down and that's not how it oughta be
5) Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention
6) I've got a lot of things to do, A lot of places to go
7) All the Federales say, they could'a had him any day
8) This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down
9) Long ago life was clean sex was bad and obscene
10) Dragged on a table in a factory, illegitimate place to be

Literary criticism can get you in trouble

In book-related political news, conserative apostate George Will made me snicker today. Here he talks about the ridiculous George Allen smears of James Webb's novels:

But Allen, who makes no secret of finding life as a senator tedious, is fighting ferociously for another term, a fate from which his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, is close to rescuing him. As a result, Allen is dabbling in literary criticism. He has read, or someone has read for him, at least some of Webb's six fine novels, finding therein sexual passages that have caused Allen -- he of the football metaphors, cowboy regalia and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco -- to blush like a fictional Victorian maiden and fulminate like an actual Victorian man, Anthony Comstock, the 19th-century scourge of sin who successfully agitated for New York and federal anti-obscenity statutes and is credited with the destruction of 160 tons of naughty printed matter and pictures.

Others have noted as well, that the Marine Corps Commandant thinks that every enlisted Marine should read Webb's Field of Fire.

William Styron

William Styron, author of Sophie's Choice died yesterday. This 2003 Guardian article gives a good overview of his literary career. He never finished his final novel, the Way of the Warrior, but Amazon, full of hope, has a page for it. Note the single customer review.

One of the main controversies surrounding Styron was his depiction of slave in The Confessions of Nat Turner and a Jewish Holocaust survivor in Sophie's Choice. The complaints were that Styron, a white male, couldn't capture the way a black person or a Jewish female would act or feel. I think most people today would disagree with this. Art is supposed to be universal and I'd hate to think we are banned from trying to understand people different from us. This goes for authors as well as readers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I'm not crazy, you're the one that's crazy

This book seems terribly relevant today. I am going to pick it up so as to better understand hard to understand groups like Wahabist terrorists and people who think Rumsfeld is doing a good job.

Since that subject is a bummer, I will counter with this little oddity from the 1980s on HBO (thanks Harris). This one is more nostalgic than funny. It's Hardware Wars (parts 1 and 2)

This sisyphean task

Just when I think that I might make a dent in my book pile, Multnomah County Library (you're voting yes on the initiative, yes?) throws me for a loop. I knocked off a couple over the weekend, when the new Bob Woodward became available. Since there are 400 holds after me, I better get reading. Thanks to our good librarian friends I am also reading a book about AQ Khan. If you don't know who he is, you should. The next nuclear use against a city will likely be his fault. I also am finally reading a Henning Mankell book. If you like your mysteries as bleak as a Swedish January, well step on up.

I really shouldn't complain though, once your reading stack is as big as mine, it will never be finished anyway.

Everyone else is doing it, so why can't he?

I must admit I was a tad surprised to see that gritty thriller writer Philip Kerr has written a series of kids books. It's not like it's DMX writing for the kiddies, but still Kerr normally covers some heavy topics. Still, the last few years have seen all sorts of people hopping into the kid's book world, including Jamie Lee Curtis, John Lithgow, Isabel Allende, Michael Chabon and James Ellroy. Just kidding about Ellroy. That would give the little ones nightmares.