Friday, August 31, 2007

More of me

I am now also blogging on PDX Pipeline. As you might guess I will be writing about books and Portland.

I got an idea of something we can do with a gun

There are plenty of books about US naval history, but the vast majority focus on the wartime navy. In its own ways, the peacetime navy is just as fascinating. How does a navy prepare for the many potential conflicts it faces? How does internal politics determine outcomes? Black Shoes and Blue Water describes the neglected arm of the US Navy, the surface fleet, during a period of decline and renewal from 1945-1975.

The US surface fleet started the period completely dominant but declined as budget dollars went to nuclear programs, aircraft carriers and submarines. By the 60s, most of the fleet was nearly incapable of fighting other surface units, instead focusing on defending carriers. The book ably describes the technical programs designed to maintain a role for the service and the efforts to use the limited budget dollars to convert obsolescent ships into useful assets. Dealing with the shift from a gun to a missile based battlefield was fascinating and makes for a great case of study of the challenges of technical change.

Also helpful is the organizational model of what happens to the underfunded service. With fewer educational and promotional opportunities, fewer of the hard charging officers will choose that service. With fewer training dollars, the crews will be less able to perform their jobs when the time comes. And the weak performance in training operations will reinforce negative perceptions creating a vicious cycle.

Naval nerds will love all the detail of heavy cruisers in Vietnam, the conversions of cruisers to missile cruisers and the many proposals that never made it, like putting Polaris missiles on surface ships. There is a lot of fun detail here.

On the downside, there is a lack of analytical distance which limits the overall lessons. The author identifies closely with the surface fleet and doesn't analyze the overall security threat to the US and how the surface fleet could have optimized the role. While the decline of the surface fleet was certainly bad for that part of the Navy, how bad was it for US national security? The author describes a decline in US conventional deterrence in the 70s, but a more systemic analysis would have been helpful.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What the?

Since I have been talking about covers, here is a cover mystery. One of my favorite songs of all time is The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Joan Baez made a decent cover, although with some odd word changes ( the Robert E Lee vs. Robert Lee, drove vs. serve for example.) On Ridin the Rails, a TV special, Johnny Cash played part of an awesome cover of the song.

I knew Cash had a studio release of the cover, which I assumed was the Ridin the Rails version. Not so. This appears to be it. It reminds me of late 70s Jimmy Buffett, and I mean that in the worst way possible. What the heck? Who else has made an awesome and a terrible version of the same song?

And Beck came over, he was out of his mind

Check Thurston's reactions to Beck's madness. And then the Beasties show up. I miss 120 minutes, note how non-polished it is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Transcendent covers

I do love a cover that can stand next to the original. The Sonic Youth cover of the Fall's cover of the Kink's Victoria is such a bizarre take, that I love it despite how it essentially wrecks the song. This is all the more impressive as Victoria is my favorite Kinks song. Here then is the progression:

The Kinks - Victoria
The Fall - Victoria
Sonic Youth (with the Fall) - Victoria

Few other songs have worked so well as both originals and transformed covers. The best example I can think of is Whiskey in the Jar. From Irish folk song to mid 70s rocker to head-banging mosh-pit fodder.

The Dubliners - Whiskey in the Jar
Thin Lizzy - Whiskey in the Jar
Metallica - Whiskey in the Jar

Pistol grip pump on my lap at all times

Richard Morgan's Thirteen is his best book yet, and given that Morgan is one of the best writers of science fiction in practice today, that says quite a bit. While the book is less violent, than prior books, it is thematically consistent. In all his books, Morgan plays to our fascination with carnage, but puts the spotlight on the human cost of violence. In this book that cost is one of his great themes, both in terms of victims but also showing the horrid impact on a person, the genetic variant thirteen of the title, purposely designed to be more violent.

Genetics as destiny plays a big role in the story, but so does the idea of feminine vs. masculine culture. Morgan presents an alternate take of Jihad vs. McWorld debate, putting nativist, anti-science, and non-cooperative societies in conflict with cooperative, post-national societies. The latter is represented by the EU, and seceded elements of the former US. The masculine societies are represented by much of the Islamic world and Republic, which is essentially Red State America populated by some horrible Rush Limbaugh/Nancy Grace devolution. Call it first stage Idiocracy if you like.

All this idea stuff is neato, but there has to be a good story and Morgan builds another good one. This time a renegade Thirteen hijacks a freighter from Mars and starts going on a North American killing spree. Marsalis, the thirteen of the title, is hired to track him down. Marsalis himself is constantly pulled in the direction of violence and can barely control his instincts.

And in a nice trick, Morgan lets us ( and by extension himself) have our cake and eat it too. Marsalis realizes that society is better off without the ultra-violent, but then there are some people that just need their ass kicked. So while, we approve of the more cooperative society, we get to savor the righteous violence. Thanks for that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I went to see Modest Mouse at the Edgefield last night and it was perfect for my old man status. For one, due to noise ordinances I suppose, the show was over by 10PM. Now at the Roseland or the Crystal you are lucky if the band goes on before 10 or 11. For another, because it is outside (and again noise?) it was rockin' without being ear destructive. This may have been why I saw so many babies, including one in a Bjorn.

Ice cream news

It looks like Cool Moon ice cream won't open until October. It looks like it is worth waiting. Even sooner, we should see the fabled Roses's return to the North East. The old location was at 45th and Fremont, where you will now find Fife. I never went, but is much loved by long term residents.

For Richmonders, take a look at this list of ice cream and gelato purveyors in the capital of the Old Dominion. Sadly, I have not visited any of these.

The Wire

I am watching the second season of the Wire, which is even better than the first. I am constantly surprised at how few people I know watch this show. Part of the issue arises from two problems; the show is grim and it requires patience. The shows are structured like novels and the first season is a slow starter. You could easily give up around episode six, as the long story of a police investigation of a Baltimore drug lord and the day to day violence of the drug trade goes on and on.

This would be a mistake. This show surpasses the Sopranos in many ways and rewards watching. Not only is the season one story compelling in and of itself, but it is important to understand the second. This means you should ignore the advice to skip the slower Season one and move on to the more immediately rewarding Season two. Quite a few of the subplots and motivations will make little sense without the context of season one. On the lighter side, many of the little joys and jokes are based on what we learned about the characters in the first one.

The show surpasses the Sopranos by having equally compelling characters, this time on both sides of the law, that interact in a tightly constructed narrative. Narrative weakness, and the resort to throwaway non-central plot episodes, has been a problem for the Sopranos. Because each season of the Wire is about a single criminal investigation, even the sub-plots tie nicely back into the main one.

Much is made of the similarities of how internal politics drives outcomes, for both the criminal gangs and the police. Some extend this argument to say the show sees them as morally equivalent. I don't think this is the case. It presents the gang members as human, with understandable if flawed (that is to say, criminal) approaches to situations. There is the underlying idea that the drug war is a bad idea, but it is not presented so obviously as in Traffic.

Monday, August 27, 2007

One to skip

I watched the Bedford Incident last night. This is for hard-core Cold War junkies only and even then I recommend you watch the first 15 minutes and skip to the last two scenes, as the only the ending is worth your time. The plot involves an overzealous destroyer captain trying to force a Soviet submarine to surface. Of course, his maniacal management drives his poor crew crazy. A reporter and a German ex- U-boat commander brought along as a consultant try to convince the Captain to be less crazy, but to no avail. A good ending, but not worth sitting through the tedious plot. For your Cold War movie goodness, watch these movies instead.

Have a look at this list (with trailers when available) of upcoming fall/Christmas movies. Some look OK, but I am quite surprised they went back for Aliens Vs. Predator, the first one sucking like it did.

Monday items

Do you need an eye-catching coffee table book? If so, may I suggest Naked Girls Smoking Weed?

Everyone knows that the Imperial March is the coolest musical piece in all of science fiction. Click here for a surf and a classical guitar version. Then there is always the Metalli-version.

Did you know that Biz Markie coined the term "Oh Snap!"? Even if you already knew this, you will enjoy this flowchart for the proper use of said term. Here then is the source document.

Fans of the cringeworthy will dig Miss South Carolina unfortunate response to in the Q&A session.

Nice one from Wonkette.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two great tastes

I am not sure how I missed this on other listens, but the mellow (for real) Shellac number Genuine Lulabelle has movie trailer king Ken Nordine, but much more importantly and strangely...Strong Bad. This has to be one of the oddest pop culture mash-ups of all time. You may hate it, but I like it, much like the goofy new intro to Spoke. In honor of Strong Bad and droning repetitive music here is Strong Bad's Techno.

And so I read one, it became four, and when I went to the store I read more

I am about halfway through Richard Morgan's new one, Thirteen, and it is A+. Now sure, it could crater, but I doubt it. This one stands up to Altered Carbon, and I expect it will exceed it, as it is more a novel of ideas while still retaining the threat and menace we so love. The reactions to threat and menace, or the perceived threats, are at the heart of this book. Its quite good, more on it when I am done.

I am enjoying this one so much that I realize I must go back and read Market Forces, the only other Morgan book I have not yet read. Yesterday, I was discussing the notion of being a book completist. This is a much bigger challenge than being a musical completist. In this day of iTunes and Hype Machine, it is not too hard to find the B-sides which once drove years long record store quests. For example, here is the bonus track to the latest Interpol.

The issue for book completists is less finding a rare book as it is finding time to read them. If you feel the need to read all of Dickens, or heaven help you, Trollope, well I hope you won the lottery or can take a sabbatical, as that is going to take awhile. For the right author, a category in which I certainly include Morgan, reading all of the books is a good idea for a number of reasons. You know you are getting a quality book, reading more of an author often helps you better understand the books you have read and hey, shouldn't you reward the people you think are doing a good job?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I envy much rocking to do

Coffee table books are tricky. If you are a student or an enthusiast of the subject matter, they are wonderful, if not, they don't draw out the eye. Fans of rock photography will want to take a look at Pat Graham's Silent Pictures. The book focuses on indie rockers of the 1990s, capturing concert photos of Modest Mouse, Fugazi, the Jesus Lizard and others. The madness of David Yow is nicely captured in these images. The live videos don't capture the carnage of the live act, so listen to this studio version of Puss to get an idea.

Reading through the book, I was sad to recall all the shows that I missed in this period. The shots of Fugazi on the Washington Mall are excellent and remind me that I really underutilized that city during my undergrad years. The moral? Go to more shows. These photos will remind you of what you are missing.

This will be a fun book for fans of indie rock. If you want to see some of Pat Graham's photography, visit his site, which leans more 21st century and color than the book. The site doesn't work very well with Firefox.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Crying parents tell their children, if you survive don't so as we did

Daniel Benjamin and Stephen Simon were NSC staffers who worked counter-terrorism issues during the Clinton Administration. Their book The Age of Sacred Terror provides a good overview of the extreme Islamist terror threat as well as the challenges in recognizing the threat. It is depressing for two reasons. It shows the base from which violent terror arises is large and may well be growing, even without the incendiary effect of the Iraq war. It also shows that the US government is not particularly strong at dealing with threats outside of well understood ones.

The review of the sources and extent of extreme ideology is well described. The authors explore the trail of theological thought that underpins the violent ideology of Bin Laden and his fellow travelers. The societal and political conditions that make the ideology more attractive to many Muslims is also clearly described.

The review of American policy in the 90s and early 21st century shows that the various bureaucracies don't like to change their behavior. Private sector types may tsk tsk, but if you tell a large corporation it needs to change, it will find 100 reasons not to. Like Richard Clarke in his book, the authors make pains to show that the Administration understood the threat was real, but were unable to push the bureaucracies into dealing with it. The FBI in particular comes out badly, with its focus on its total independence and supporting criminal investigations over terror investigations.

Having read this book, I would like to read the much praised and more recent The Looming Tower, which covers much of the same ground.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Ah yes, the celebrity cover band, Super Diamond, Beatallica and now Budweezer. This Tired of Sex isn't bad, and this Surf Wax America is pretty good too. I know it is cool to hate on Weezer these days, but those first two albums are really something. And I do like the video where they hang out with the Muppets.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Good news? Bad news?

Jeff Long's Descent is one of the best thrillers of all time. I didn't expect a sequel to this epic but here it is. Normally I would be elated, but the Publisher's Weekly review isn't very keen.

Covers can make me cry

Now this Editors cover of Orange Crush one really doesn't, although the opening few seconds hint at a nightmare cover that eventually morphs into a more or less re-recording version. The main question is how he deals with the incomprehensible mutterings of Stipe found in the latter half of the song. He does a fair job at making them sound more like recognizable words.

This Los Campensinos cover of Pavement's Frontwards does in fact make me cry. And not in the with-joy sense.

You can't hold it too tight, these matters of security

William Boyd is one of the most unappreciated, in the United States at least, novelists of the last two decades. He has written an excellent book on identity, Armadillo, a number of wonderful books set in Africa, including An Ice Cream War and A Good Man in Africa and his 2003 novel, Any Human Heart, stands up any book by Ian McEwan for its psychological exploration. His most recent book, Restless, is a departure, as it is a spy thriller, a literary one to be sure, but nonetheless a spy thriller. For some, for example those put off by Chabon's visit to mystery country, this will be off-putting. For the literati willing to put aside their genre-phobia, this is an excellent read.

The novel has two narrative strands. The first is set in 1976 Britain where an ABD grad student making her living at ESL learns that her dotty old mother was a spy back in the war days. What's more, she thinks someone is coming to kill her. The second strand is a series of journal entries describing the war years. The two stories are tied together as Mother believes she is going to be killed because of the content of the journal.

The spy narrative is a tension filled and outstanding spy story, while the modern story doesn't really stand on its own. The mother becomes involved in an effort to prod the US into the Second World War through the US of disinformation techniques. Her experience in this realm brings into question the veracity of her narrative, and raises the disturbing question about how people manipulate others.

On the literary side, the book directly and indirectly questions whether we can know any other person. The book features a variety of betrayals from the petty to the lethal, and most of these stem from the inability to determine the true nature of a person. The costs of a life of spying are also driven home, especially of the final shot of the mother.

Goofy theme songs

After singing the theme song to Sid & Marty Kroftt kids show the Bugaloos, I decided to find it on You Tube so the kids could hear it. Man, those Bugaloos are some serious hippies. From the same people, there is HR Pufnstuf. I had forgotten the magic flute and the tempting, talking boat. This one appears to be even more influenced by heavy use of the chronic than the Bugaloos. As a program, I prefer Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Or maybe, Wonderbug or Dr Shrinker. The latter show comes from the mid-70s and abandons the psychedelia of the early themes for cheesy white funk of the Osmonds.

The Kroffts are all well and good, but I must note my preference for Rankin and Bass.

While we are on the subject of dubious pop culture artifacts, take note that Danzig is now emptying the archives.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Perhaps you have read Rudy Guiliani's unfortunate Foreign Affairs piece meant to elucidate his approach to foreign policy. If you would like the US to completely drive itself self into the ground, vote for Rudy.

I highly recommend Greg Djerejian's acid take on the piece. Fred Kaplan takes it apart rather nicely too.

I'll teach you to burn

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's Pulitzer Prize winning American Prometheus is an excellent example of how a biography should be written. The authors focus on how Robert Oppenheimer's upbringing, academic experiences and personality shaped his approach to his successes in teaching and managing the Manhattan project as well as his failures as a politically engaged public intellectual. While it does not replace Rhodes' book as the leading book of the bomb, it is certainly the leading book on this monumental figure.

Oppenheimer was extremely driven and like a tragic play, many of his early actions comes to haunt him in his later years. His participation with leftist causes in the 30s and his relationships with communist party members nearly cost him his role in the Manhattan project and did cost him involvement in the national security structure during the Eisenhower years. Unfortunately, it was Oppenheimer's ways of alienating people, including President Truman and even worse Lewis Strauss that ultimately crushed him.

There is so much to like about this book. For one, Oppenheimer was an amazing person, conversant in multiple disciplines, although his detractors might instead say he was unfocused and uncommitted to deep study of physics. The book also conveys the turbulent 30s with prominent Americans flirting with hard left politics and then the anti-communist back lash of the late 40s and early 50s. For those who don't desire to read an entire book about the Manhattan project, the book manages to cover that reasonably well. The authors, over the course of decades, conducted dozens of interviews with those familiar with Oppenheimer and the detail is incredible.

The outstanding question about Oppenheimer was not whether he was a spy, but whether he was ever a communist. The authors say no, and provide as much proof as is likely. This makes the witch hunt and hearing all the more reprehensible. The section in which he is effectively tried in a show trial goes on a bit long, but is still worth the read.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost is a disturbing book. The story itself, about the wanton rape of a country by the imperialistic King of Belgium is terrible in its details. As Hochschild points out in an chapter about Conrad, the Heart of Darkness is not an allegory about the theoretical evils of imperialism or, rather it is the shocked reflection from actual visits to the Congo. The overall tone is brightened as Hochschild describes the people who dedicated much of their lives to trying to stop the outrages.

The basics of the story is that through false premises of human rights and anti-slavery, Leopold became the personal owner of the Congo. The famed explorer Stanley played a key role in it as well. My image of him was vague, but he comes out poorly here. The goal was resource extraction and once the rubber market took off, the race was on to exploit it before other markets came online. And if a few locals had to get whipped to death with hippo hide whips, or parents had to watch their children have their hands cut off with machetes, well that's just how the game is played isn't? There is a special club in Hell for the worst of the worst and while he may not be roomies with Hitler, Leopold probably sees him in the cafeteria.

What is more disturbing is how little known the story is today. It was quite the cause celebre in the early 20th century, but it was quickly overshadowed by the German occupation of Belgium. During that war, the Allies used the Rape of Belgium as a propaganda weapon and Congo was forgotten. Hochschild argues that there was no rape, although this book argues otherwise. In any case, the deaths of up to 10 million Congolese due to extreme exploitation and cruelty (one overseer was noted for clearing his the forest around his house, the better to shoot random passersby.)

Hochschild argues that one reason it is forgotten is that the Congo was part of a long chain of barbarity in the 19th and 20th centuries, albeit one of the worst cases. He often compares Leopold and his policies to that of Stalin, hardly a winning comparison.

The crusaders who tried to stop the cruelty didn't all fare so well, many of them were broken by their attempts to highlight what was happening. And as you might expect, those with an interest in the region kept their fingers in their ears. Still they did succeed, as Leopold had to turn over the Congo to the state of Belgium. And many were politically astute. One ally in the US was a racist senator whose goal was to get black Americans to emigrate to Africa. His reasoning was, as long as the Congo was such a mess, there was no way anyone would move there.

Hochschild tells his story in just about 300 pages. He has a big story to tell, but he does it sparingly. All in all, a winner.

A lesson

Check your email every day. As you might guess, I am reasonably obsessive, but I was presenting to a client in Greater LA, so no email. Which means I missed the email from Powell's that my recommendation for the Daily Dose was up. I had until the end of the day to claim my $40 in book credit. Money is one thing, but money you can only spend on book is something else entirely.

It being LA, I had to run into a few film productions. The hotel in which we ate lunch was hosting the new American Band reality show. And at LAX a filmed called the Chosen One, which could be this or this was being filmed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

YouTube confluence

Here is something for the YouTubers, Chad Vader sings Chocolate Rain.

Only slightly, slightly less than I hoped to

My enjoyment of the Host (simply called Monster in its native Korean) was a bit less than I had hoped but it was still a fun monster movie. More overtly than its Japanese ancestor Godzilla, the movie is also a commentary about modern Korean life and the tensions of the Korean-American relationship.

The monster itself works. An American official's thoughtless order leads to a mutated lamprey/frog beast growing in Seoul's Han river. The film company clearly spent money on this one as the monster looks great and is as realistic as one could hope. The first full shot of it is the best in the movie with a soundless lumbering approach that captured the slow, stunned reaction to the extraordinary.

The action centers on the reactions of a family reunited in sadness after the monster took the young daughter of one of the siblings. They are swept up by an incompetent government reaction that is PR rather than effectiveness driven. At certain points, it is made to appear that the US and the ROK government as well are using the opportunity to test all sorts of weapons and plans. As you might expect, it ends up being the main characters rather than the government which ends up resolving the issue.

The movie has Firefly-esque approach to the genre, which is to respect but also tweak it, and tweak it a bit more directly than you would see in Hot Fuzz for example. This may come off as ham handed, but it seemed appropriate to the anti-heroic approach to the movie.

My main complaint is that the movie is a bit too long at two hours. Much of the middle section could have been condensed to minor effect and even the climax was a bit overlong as well. Fans of the monster genre will be glad that it is possible for new ones to be made well.

Books and movies

Sometimes the suits in Hollywood make the right decision. At the top of this list (via Ross Douthot) of the "best movies you will never see" is the Confederacy of Dunces. I realize this is a favorite among many, but I couldn't make it past page 40. Self-important blowhards pointing out the absurdities of our modern life are not for me I guess. A lengthly description of the most recent version of the movie, starring Will Ferrell, is here.

I used to think that only short, uncomplicated books can be made into movies, but I have come to think any book can be made into a movie if the screenwriter and director can capture the spirit of it. The film of LA Confidential managed to condense a mammoth book into two hours without too much loss. And while getting weirdness on film isn't always easy, it can be done, as the Shining shows. Here are some books which should be made into movies.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. This may happen. Done well it would replace Blade Runner as the cool dystopian future movie.

The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr. Really any of the Bernard Gunther books would do. We haven't had a good Third Reich movie in awhile.

World at Night
by Alan Furst. Most of Furst's books would be interesting, but this one has a high amount of action, which would translate well. The intense emphasis on mood would be a challenge.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Yes, it is in the form of a letter, but a director can make that work with a narrator. I think it should lean understated, as in You Can Count on Me, which I think would give it even more emotional power.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'll swallow your soul, I'll swallow your soul

Fans of the Exorcist will shiver at this story.

Food, glorious food

Is food writing art? Yes and that is an official yes, because the Library of America says so. The LOA recently published a 750 page+ anthology of American food writing. Among the many authors you will find Thomas Jefferson, who here gives the first American recipe for ice cream. The website provides another sample, by Sheila Hibben, the first restaurant writer for the New Yorker.

If you have $4,000 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, you could pick up the Food writing and every other LOA title from Amazon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Song of the day

Superchunk - Cool. Superchunk laments that all of their songs (and by extension everyone else's) are just re-assemblies of other songs. A fun straight forward rocker.

Perdido once again

Perdido Street Station is hugely entertaining, and I recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. I use both as there are a number of elements that are more common to science fiction that to fantasy. There is one element that is old hat to scifi readers, but may well elicit a woah among the fantasy readers. Scifi readers will be excited and surprised at how he explores it. There are two reasons I can see why people would not like this book.

Hot human on bug action: Among other creative elements, Mieville populates his city with peculiar races, including cactus people, a watery lifeform, steampunk cyborgs and an intelligent insect. The central character of the book has a relationship with one of the bug people and you get more than one scene of sweet bug lovin'. Just hold your nose and keep reading as this drops off.

Grim reality: Mieville, correctly to my mind, notes that a fantasy world would probably be an unpleasant place to live. His depiction of a city is not terribly pretty, even for the most wealthy. Sure, Mieville is a Marxist for whom nearly everything in the past is inherently inferior, but honestly, would you want to live in 17th century anywhere? Still, if a realist approach is not for you, this book may be inappropriate.

I find that the pluses far outweighs the negatives.

Integrated creativity: Mieville populates this book with more cool creations than two or three normal authors can manage in a lifetime. More importantly, the things he creates nearly always serve the purpose of either driving the story or the themes he is addressing. Too often creativity is a cul de sac, but with Mieville it is a particularly well managed art exhibit.

Non-obvious narrative: Mieville begins his book with four of five plot elements, including a research project, an art commission and a labor dispute (!!). These all come together once the story begins, which is nice, but even better it keeps the reader guessing as to the eventual direction of the story.

Cool monsters: The number of memorable monsters is fairly small. I would include the Balrog, the Shrike, the Grendel (from Legacy of Heorot) and the Paratwa as true standouts. One and perhaps two of the beasts in this story can stand in this elite group.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Icky ice cream

(Via marginal revolution) Have a gander at this list of 100 frightening ice cream flavors from Who Sucks. They are pretty odd. How about Ox Tongue ice cream? From the same website, this is amusing.

And this is interesting, color photos from World War 1. If time-wasting is on your list of things to do, you need to hit this site.

Air Show fun

The Oregon Air Show was even better than last year, based on child and parent entertainment units. The Blue Angels were truly amazing, but they were also truly loud. Next year I am bringing ear plugs for the kids. It's best they went on last, as the drama and skills were so impressive, it would have overshadowed the other impressive performers. Among those, I thought a foursome called the Collaborators were particularly fun to watch.

There were aircraft aplenty to watch, both on and off the ground. My daughter had the most fun climbing into P-3 and Super Stallion cockpits. The P-3 is an example of investment priority as in anti-submarine is last in line. The P-3, which is one of the standard USN anti-submarine platforms is decades old and it certainly feels like a Cold War aircraft. I can't imagine what the maintenance time is like.

A pair of Mig-17s flew and I greatly enjoyed seeing these Soviet airframes. The oddest plane was the Red Bull Mig 17, which you can see in this video. The Red bit is cheeky, and it would gall the old the Marxist Leninists to see one of their planes as an advertisement platform.

There was also an unadvertised Stealth Fighter fly-by. What a strange looking plane. Apparently it is not long for active service. Soon you will probably be able to see it at Davis Monthan.

It wasn't all planes though. The moon bounces and kids slide were $6 for an all day pass, which was an excellent bargain, considering we were at the show for six hours. I was a little worried after last year's plane crash that the show might be endangered. With the high turnout, it looks like it will be around for awhile.

If your air show thirst is unslaked, or if older planes are your bag, then mark your calendars for Sept 7-9 and pencil in Hood River. A new museum, The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum is hosting a fly in, which will include a Jenny. Seeing one of those in flight is a rare treat.

Even sooner is the Central Oregon Air Show in Madras, which is August 24th and 25th. While in Madras, seek out the Original Burger Works. Excellent burgers and great shakes.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Oregon Air Show

Just in case you are planning to attend the air show tomorrow, be aware that the start time has moved up to 10AM. I'm very glad I checked or I would have outraged children with which to contend.

If that is not your bag, how about the two Coreys?

Friday morning

So I am nearly done with China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to read this amazing book. The publisher calls it Dickens meets Stephenson, which is a little odd as it is a fantasy novel, but the comparison is apt. Like Dickens, Mieville centers his action completely in a city with all its social, economic and political complexity. Like the grimmer late Dickens (no Pickwick Papers, this) the city is a bleak place, in this case dirty, smelly and dangerous. The Stephenson comment makes sense as this is a steampunk/fantasy hybrid in setting, which is closer to some of Stephenson's work than say Martin. It is a dark book, with occasional flashes of humor. For me, the darkness is overwhelmed by Mieville's profusion of creation. More on this one later.

This new series of mysteries looks like it could be the Berlin Noir of this decade.

Here is a great article about the coming of high end chocolate to Britain. It's filled with excellent detail.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


This is fairly awesome. The seizure inducing Star Wars Holiday Special edited down to five minutes. It nicely compresses the awfulness.

Richard Yates's biographer has a piece in Slate about the upcoming film version of Revolutionary Road. He talks about how hard it has been to get a film made about this wonderful, bleak novel made. As he notes, it remains cultish because it criticizes nearly everyone likely to read it.

Have a look at this story about the Car, a enjoyably bad 70s horror movie that I really liked when I was 12.

Guilt by Association is an compilation of indie rockers playing mainstream songs like Journey's Don't Stop Believing. Haters beware.

Have a look at this post on great speeches in movies with emphasis on the Indianapolis story in Jaws. (via Ross Douthot)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam

Since the dawn of You Tube oh so many months ago, I was hoping to see this bizarre video set in ca 1980 LA and featuring a cheesy little song. As it happens, a friend just sent the video at random.

It is Michael Nesmith's Cruisin'.

Catching my fancy

I stopped by Borders to clear my head after a bout of presentation writing. Here are some books that caught my eye.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson. This one concerns a young black child living with a group of Boston radicals in the revolutionary era. And sadly, they don't have his best interests at heart. Looks weighty for the teen set for whom it is written, but also rather good.

The War for All the Oceans by Roy and Lesley Adkins. Thanks to expertise and history, British and American authors tend to overstate the importance of naval power, but I do enjoy the histories nonetheless.

Seizing Destiny: How America Grew From Sea to Shining Sea by Richard Kluger. The title might make you think this one is geared to the Regnery crowd, but it actually appears to be a rather dark look at the past.

Red Leaves by Thomas Cook. This is an older book, but it looks quite good.

A snowball survives in hell

Did you ever think you would ever read a decent horror novel again? Christ on his throne NO! and whoever would? Well, Joe Hill has managed quite a trick with his horror story Heart Shaped Box. Hill avoids so many of the pitfalls of the horror genre and shows at least one way to write an effective scary story.

The relative simplicity of the story allows Hill to concentrate on his characters. The main characters are Judas Coyne, an Ozzy Osbourne/Danzig like rocker, and his girlfriend Georgia. That isn't her real name, but he uses home states as a substitute for names with his women. Coyne, a collector of the morbid and ghoulish, buys a ghost, in the form of a haunted suit. It turns out the ghost isn't terribly friendly.

In many stories, once the horrific elements start they don't stop. One effect of this is to make them less shocking. In Hill's story, the ghost that haunts his main characters attacks and then retreats. The characters return to the everyday only to have the evil force reappear in surprising ways. His writing is clear, lucid and naturalistic which makes his ghost seem all the more believable.

Hill makes the story more horrific by using less violence and limiting its scope. The violence in many horror novels is so over the top that it becomes cartoonish. In the scariest books and films, the threat of violence is much more unbearable than the act itself. The ghost is a tormentor in addition to a killer and Hill uses this to good effect.

Finally, the book addresses actual themes such as addressing one's pasts, redeeming past failures and the surviving bad families. While this may seem like window dressing in a book that is meant to keep you up at night and listening closely for intruders, it reinforces the characters as real people and invests the reader in the story.

This is Hill's first novel, so there is hope for more horror novels worth reading.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Watch this movie

Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite movies of the last few years, so I had to see the follow up Hot Fuzz. It succeeds for the same reasons that Shaun did. It pokes fun at a genre, in this case the buddy cop film, but does so in a loving, respectful manner. Further, it manages to be both funny and as exciting as any other action film. In other spoofs, like Scary Movie or Airplane, when the obvious jokes fall flat, there isn't much else to the film. You can forgive the weaker jokes of Hot Fuzz, of which there aren't many, because the film is so much richer than those that went before it.

The movies jokes work on a number of levels. The biggest is that it is a big city action film set in a quaint English village. Simon Pegg plays a cop so hot that the powers that be exile him for making everyone else on the Metropolitan police force look bad. His depiction of the super cop is hilarious and the satirical look at English country life is wonderful. Nick Frost, who played Pegg's buddy in Shaun, is wonderful as the comedic foil to the straight laced Pegg. Timothy Dalton is excellent as the oily local merchant who may have dark secrets. The movie makes excellent use of music, sometimes as a joke and sometimes to set the right theme or mood.

There are numerous other gags, some of which are so understated that you may well miss them. There are two cameos, one involving someone completely covered in crime scene gear and the other is a few seconds long. There is also a fairly complicated Iain (M) Banks joke, which references one of the more dramatic bits of The Wasp Factory. There action references aplenty and probably much more.

You'll be hard pressed to find a movie more fun than this one.


I am in the middle of a stellar biography of Robert Oppenheimer, called American Prometheus. While I adore this book, I tend not to read biographies, although I have never thought why not. In a post about biographies as a genre, Matthew Yglesias discusses the problem with biographies.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Up against the wall

While I am generally shy about book series, Akashic has something good on its hands with the Noir books. Each book contains short stories set in a city generally associated with the moody darkness of noir. I thought the George Pelecanos edited DC Noir was good, but one of the newest volumes, Wall Street Noir, is an excellent set of nasty little stories.

The book could have been a variety of Bonfire of the Vanities clones, but the stories are quite diverse. There are dissections of the vapid culture of the denizens of the Street, tales of the insane workstyles, back-room backstabbing, overseas hijinks and of course plenty of delusion. John Burdett, author of mysteries set in Thailand, offers up a tale of karmic justice that accepts the Thai version of reality as the true reality. There were a few stories that didn't click for me, but the vast majority were great.

This is the first book in the series to take on a culture, that of global finance, rather than just a city. This helps to thematically unify the book in a way that the DC book didn't quite achieve. Yes, that one had stories set throughout the town, but without the threads that this one had, it felt less cohesive. I am interested in future volumes, some of which are set in developing world cities like Lagos and Delhi, can manage to paint a convincing portrait of the bad sides of these towns.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Surprise, surprise they wouldn't wanna watch

Oh man, I need to get away from computers so I can stop playing the Nationals "Mistaken for Strangers." This song is easily my favorite of 2007, surpassing even No I in Threesome and Fire it Up. The National will be playing the Crystal on Oct 1 for $15. Which is a lot less than I paid for Modest Mouse and Interpol tickets.

Here are some other songs I cannot resist.

Spoon Rhythm and Soul. (scroll down) For me, it is all about the little synth riff. Really, it's amazing.

Built to Spill Made Up Dreams. Yeah, whatever, this song is ten years old. It still rules.

XTC Making Plans For Nigel. Goddam you Fred (XM 43) This thing is totally stuck in my head.

He's the one that likes all our pretty songs

Pitchfork reports that the people who brought you "Now that's what I call music!" are releasing a "Now that's what I call Indie Rock!" compilation. I never used to think much of these, as they looked like the K-tel records of our generation, but a music merchandiser at a former employer told me these are huge sellers. I'm all for the indie folks getting more play, but I can just see the bitter indie fan being angry that those people are digging their faves.

Netflix queue getting a tad low? Use the IFC/ top 50 sex scenes of film to help you fill it up.

Alternate history writer Robert Conroy has a new book called 1945, which features an invasion of Japan in 1945. This one is a little different as it assume the atomic bombings occur, but a coup prevents Hirohito from surrendering. And wow, here is another new one on a similar subject. An out of print book that I quite enjoyed is The Burning Mountain, which assumes an accident derails the Trinity Test so the planned invasion of Japan goes forward.

Few reviewers get me excited for a read like Jonathan Yardley. Here is on The Unnatural History of the Sea, yet another in the how-we-are-effing-up-the planet series of books.

For some reason I keep watching horror movies

It's really quite hard to establish the mood necessary to create a truly scary or horrifying film. For every Exorcist or the Ring, there are dozens of the Hills Have Eyes 2. Instead of going for scary, most directors aim for funny, gory or disturbing. While the current strain of disturbing, the torture film, appears to dying a just death, the funny and gory strands continue to push forward. Feast is a misfired amalgam of the two.

It starts off well enough. The scene is an isolated bar in the desert southwest. Each character is introduced with a stereotypical label, Beer Guy, Grandma and so on, their job or reason to be at the bar and their life expectancy. There are a few good meta-level jokes here. Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay and Silent Bob) appears and is identified as "Jason Mewes" and then there is a joke about his still being alive.

Beyond that the jokes get a bit weak and the movie becomes a long string of icky deaths. And becomes boring. The characters are so thin, that we don't really care in what order or the manner in which they die.

Henry Rollins is an occasional highlight. He plays a slick Southern California life coach who tries to psych up the other victims. Since they were getting all meta, I was hoping he would bust out "Liar." No such luck.

In the end, like most horror movies, this might make for a nice diversion at a slumber party, but not much else. But in that case you should watch something really crazy like Sleepaway Camp.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No future

I do love a good dystopian film and boy does Children of Men deliver. The future society is grim, but not too far our from reality to be unbelievable and not too horrid to be easily dismissed. It is also surprisingly even handed, with both the oppressive state and the forces of rebellion acting in repellent ways.

The decline of the world came from end of children. At some point in the future, women stopped having babies. As people realized there was no future, the world largely collapsed with the exception of England which has become an authoritarian state committed to keeping non-Britons out. The rebels, known as the fish, perhaps a Christian or perhaps a Maoist reference, have a pregnant woman on their hands and they want the help of the withdrawn hero to get her out of England.

This could have been a typical chase film, but thanks to the source material, written by master mystery writer PD James, the story takes a number of surprising turns. The movie's theme is clearly about pressing on and maintaining hope, against every reason not to hope and to give up. The final shot makes manifest the triumph of hope.

The movie is also meant to ask questions about the current world. The refugee camps in Britain are meant to shock and then force you to think about the Palestinian camps (and presumably the horrors of Central Africa) and why they continue to exist. I suspect there is also a warning about the slow slide to a paternalistic and dominating security state. It doesn't really have any answers for any of the questions, but it is worth noting that the world today is this bad in many places.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Excellence in reviewing

If you are a fan of book reviews that manage to be discursive, while still communicating the strengths and weaknesses of the book under investigation, then you must read John Derbyshire's extensive review of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Derbyshire's prose is worthy of reading in and of itself.

Although a minor detail, I appreciate that Derbyshire provides a metric for deciding whether or not to read the nearly 3000 page epic.

A novel stands or falls by the pleasure it gives to the thoughtful and attentive reader. By that standard, and setting aside the minor blemishes noted above, the Baroque Cycle is a very fine work of popular fiction. The more you know about math, logic, and computing, the more you will find in it; but any reader who, at a bare minimum, does not mind mathematical and technological topics will find something. If you have been wondering whether you should tackle Neal Stephenson’s three big volumes, I urge you to do so.

And if the people stare, then the people stare

You may recall the trailer which repositioned the Shining as a comedy. And now we have Brokeback Gangsters and this one is in a similar vein we have this.