Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hope may finally be dawning.

Friday evening, we had four friends come over and help us move furniture out of the old house, then unload two pickup loads at the new townhouse. Back to the old place to spend one last night there, and on Saturday morning (as Tolkien once said) "they have begun to arrive", as a procession of friends came by and helped us with the last of the heavy stuff. We loaded two very large trailers full, plus the beds of three pickup trucks, and trundled across town to unload much of it at the new place, and the remainder at our rented storage (which I'm really going to have to work hard to clear out before too long).

And still, and yet, we are not done with the move. I need to finish clearing out the garage of tools and miscellany after church today, then we'll do a final cleaning and some touchup painting, and should be ready for the closing of the deal on Friday.

Friday, March 20, 2015

America: Imagine a World Without Her by Dinesh D'Souza

Heh. I have an old colleague whose last name is D'Souza. When I first typed the title this post, I had his name as the author of this book, rather than Dinesh D'Souza. The mind works in mysterious ways.

D'Souza does a pretty good rebuttal of the Progressive view of America, as quoted below,

"According to the progressive critique, America was found in an original act of piracy; the early settlers came from abroad and stole the country from the native Indians. Then America was built by theft; white Americans stole the labor of African Americans by enslaving them for 250 years. The theft continued through nearly a century of segregation, discrimination, and Jim Crow. The borders of America were also extended by theft; America stole half of Mexico in the Mexican War. Moreover, America's economic system, capitalism, is based on theft since it confers unjust profits on a few and deprives the majority of workers of their "fair share." Finally, American foreign policy is based on theft, what historian William Appleman Williams termed "empire as a way of life." America's actions abroad are aimed at plundering other people's land and resources so that we can continue to enjoy an outsized standard of living compared to the rest of the world."

As an unabashed, patriotic, white cismale American capitalist, I can say for my part that he was pretty much preaching to the choir while he demolished these premises one by one. Without Western capitalism and Judeo Christian values, not to mention technology and modern medicine, far more of the people on planet Earth would still be living lives "nasty, brutish, and short".

I wish I had the energy to do a more thorough discussion. It was a very good read.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Around the Web

A book review over on Pajamas Media.

More audiobooks

So, we're still not doing too well on choosing audiobooks to keep us entertained and awake on long car trips. Our most recent attempts were An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, which was at its very best an education in the world of art auctions, and at its worst, a modern Valley of the Dolls. We gave up after a half dozen chapters.

The other selection was A Good Fall by Ha Jin, a collection of short stories by an acclaimed author. Acclaimed and $5 will buy you a cup of coffee. The stories were very odd, and after just two of them we turned it off.

Hoping to fare better on our next trip.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Still too quiet

Life continues to interfere with blogging, and even with reading, for that matter. Might get a couple of short posts up late in the week.

In case you've been wondering what's going on, it's been a winter of real estate madness. We've lived in our current home, an old Victorian built in 1932, for 19 years, and accumulated 19 years worth of "stuff" along with our memories. So, when the house sold after a short time on the market, we have spent hundreds of hours "triaging" what stays in our lives and what needs to go away, and have rented a storage shed and searched for and rented a townhome in the last few weeks, then taken load after load to various destinations. Many mornings on the way to work I stop at the storage place with a pickup truck full of boxes, and in the evenings this week we've been madly packing boxes and hauling them to the new place we'll be living in after this weekend.

Things should settle down some after we close on the house at the end of the month, though that may be a foolishly optimistic thought, as I already have some oral surgery scheduled for the first week in April, and I'm sure other events will fill my days. To add to the fun, I'll be covering work responsibilities for a colleague who is going home to India for a month, starting the 25th.

Hmm...might be a while before the next lengthy review gets posted.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Madness in Solidar by L.E. Modesitt

 Once again, the story jumps time periods by four centuries, to a time when the Collegium is in decline, a Rex who is considered to be mad rules Solidar, and the passing of the old Maitre has left his replacement, Alastar, blindly attempting to figure out the political scene so that he can create order from chaos.

Did you ever notice how some actors, no matter what role they are playing, end up playing themselves, over and over again? Hugh Grant, the prototypical bumbling, oblivious, yet well-meaning Englishman, comes immediately to mind. It seems to me recently that all of Modesitt's leading men in the Imager series have begun to sound alike, and their lady love foils, who all seem to be highly intelligent, strong-willed, and with personalities that anchor or reign in the protagonists, Rhen, Quaeryt, and Alastar, begin to blend together into one archetype, as well.

The Rex wants to raise tariffs. The High Holders and factors oppose him. The army supports him against the High Holders and wants to see the power of the Collegium eliminated. There may also be a coup or two in the wings.

Modesitt is such a good writer that he can make the tale enjoyable and entertaining, despite the fact that nothing really all that new happens here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ford County by John Grisham

I recently picked up the audio book of Ford County, hoping it would keep me entertained and awake on a long trip. The most enjoyable audio book I ever listened to was Playing for Pizza, by Grisham, while several others by other authors nearly put me to sleep - a bad thing on the interstate.

Ford County is a series of vignettes describing life, or perhaps low life, in a rural county down South. At best, they displayed a dark humor, and for the most part were terribly depressing to listen to, though Grisham is a masterful writer. The only one that had a "happy" ending involved a "hero" that one could barely cheer for, as he is a lawyer who robs his clients, divorces his wife, abandons his children, and runs away from all his problems.

If you like to be darkly amused by stupid and bad behavior, you'll enjoy these, but I finally had to turn it off and listen to the radio instead.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Low Midnight by Carrie Vaughn

I just got the joke in the title of this book - the showdown doesn't happen at High Noon, but...Low Midnight. A little slow.

Cormac Bennet is finally off parole, and this story switches to his narrative, instead of Kitty's. A nice change, one would think.

Cormac and his resident ghost travel to the hinterlands of Colorado to speak with the aunt of the witch who gave Kitty her books of spells, hoping that she can help translate the code in which it is written. The aunt decides to test Cormac by setting him a hundred year old mystery to solve regarding a pair of dueling sorcerers in the Wild West. Along the way, Cormac encounters some low lifes from his past, and that of his bounty hunting father's.

A somewhat anticlimactic battle eventually occurs when the thugs get in Cormac's way, and the overall plot arc of this series moves minutely forward. The underlying theme still remains, as it does in most female written urban fantasy these days, about the importance of relying on your friends, and slowly realizing how important they are to you.


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Future Falls by Tanya Huff

Due to the busy-ness in my life right now, I'm not going to write a long-winded essay about the latest in the Gale Aunties series by Huff. Huff is a superb and well-established author who writes very readable fiction. BUT...this particular iteration of the series spends most of its time going nowhere, while indulging in maudlin whining from the main character, Charlie (Charlotte) about the unable-to-be-consummated love affair between herself, and Jack the Dragon Prince. The plot should have been about the existential threat of global extinction posed by the asteroid which is about to strike Earth, and about the characters and their friends doing everything in their power to stop it, but instead it was mostly about interpersonal power juggling and emotional foolishness. I still love Huff's writing, and it was vastly entertaining, but if you're looking for adventure, it ain't here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Start Your Own Restaurant and More by Jacqueline Lynn

 My apologies to the author of this book, who did a marvelous job of describing and analyzing all phases of the process of starting a restaurant, from a pizza parlor to a bakery and more. I began reading it when I was considering buying a restaurant, but when that deal didn't happen, I lacked the motivation to motor my way on to the end of the book. If you're curious about such things as how many place settings of silverware you need per "top" in the dining room, and the ins and outs of choosing suppliers and determining staffing needs, this is an excellent resource.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Still Alive and Well

Nothing to report on the literary front. I have three books in various stages of read-ness, which I cannot seem to complete. The sale of our home of twenty years, packing, and attempting to find a rental home are keeping me way too busy.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hidden by Benedict Jacka

 I can't say enough good things about the Alex Verus series. It started as a bit of a ripoff of Butcher's Harry Dresden, seemingly, but has acquired an interesting life and story line of its own along the way. Mage Talisid, from the Council of the light mages, is still trying to recruit Alex to help them discover the whereabouts and plans of Richard Drakh, Alex's former master dark mage, but Verus wants nothing to do with this, and refuses to believe the rumors of Drakh's return. Alex's relationship with Anne is still strained due to her feelings about how all of the people who have come after him in the last few years seem to end up dead, and his former friend, Sonder, is also uncomfortable with Alex's trail of bodies.

Luna, however, is still strongly on his side, as (surprisingly) is Variam, Anne's former co-apprentice with the dark mage Sagash. Keeper Caldera is still on the fence as far as Alex is concerned, but she tends to be a bit more pragmatic about these things, having faced the dark mages and other evils for too long in her career. When Anne is kidnapped, though, they must all join forces to try and find her and help her escape from her captors.

One of the interesting things that develops as we go along in this series is that we find out more and more about exactly how Verus uses his powers of divination to discover the answers he needs. I wonder if Jacka had all of this worked out at the very beginning, and used it as the basis for his plot lines, or if it has just come to him in dribbles and drabs, too.

Also, I like the use of the Elsewhere to reveal interesting facets of the non-POV characters history and motivations, and how the beings there have interesting motivations of their own.

I've reached the end of the books already written in this series. Now, I have to wait. I'm not good at that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright

I'm noting a curious phenomenon. Enjoying a person's blog writings doesn't seem to translate well to enjoying their novels. I read John C. Wright's Orphans of Chaos a while back and didn't really like it much, but I recently discovered his blog, and liked some of the things he had to say there, so I thought I should give him a second chance. Yeah, that didn't work out too well. I only managed about 25 pages of Count to a Trillion before I gave it up as confusing and un-engaging. Sorry Mr. Wright.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Talk amongst Yourselves

Blogging will be light. The real world takes all my attention at the moment. Have three books in progress, none of which are finishing up any time soon. Hope to be back in stride next week.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Strands of Sorrow by John Ringo

 Ringo mentions in the intro to this book that he had intended to end the series with the previous book, Islands of Rage and Hope. I don't recall it seeming to me like a good stopping point at its conclusion, and I'm not certain that this one was much better - still far too much work to be done to clear the U.S. and the world, but I suppose that series could go on longer than the Posleen War, if Ringo had the ambition, or needed the cash, eh?

The leaders of Wolf Squadron make the tactical decision to clear the coastlines of the U.S. focusing on naval bases around San Diego and Jacksonville. We have plenty of descriptions of Faith and Sophia using their zombie killing and helicopter piloting skills to turn zombie hordes into zombie sludge. I think Ringo may have anticipated the Super Bowl's "Like a Girl" campaign quite nicely.

Focus continues to remain on Lt. Faith's conflicts with regular officers and NCOs who don't understand that the world has changed, and that their pre-apocalypse attitudes and tactics simply won't work. We barely see anything from the point of view of the adults in the story, and the girls' mom has done a full Houdini.

Ringo introduces some new characters, just long enough to have them show us some interesting aspect of the process of taking back America, and then drops them, never to appear again.

Hoping Ringo goes back to writing Ghost stories, or perhaps picks up the saga of Troy Rising or Wands. Or, heaven forbid, maybe he's reached that point in his writing where he has nothing new left to say - that would be a pity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Into the Storm by Larry Correia

I've been reading Larry Correia's Monster Hunter series from the beginning, and have really loved it. I tried his Grimnoir series, and wasn't thrilled, but I thought his new fantasy series might be fun. And for a brief shining chapter or two, it was. After that, not so much.

The opening scene of the book is simply brilliant. Lieutenant Hugh Madigan, Knight of Cygnar, is working undercover to arrest a bandit leader in a tawdry tavern in an obscure village. Just as he is about to be brought into the inner circle, a clueless Cygnarian sergeant, Cleasby, stumbles into the taproom with an urgent message from the capitol for Madigan, and refuses to take a hint, blowing Madigan's cover, and triggering a bloody but short barroom brawl.

Madigan has been laboring in exile and disgrace after being on the wrong side of the most recent coup in the city of Sul, and being found guilty of war crimes - although that may just have been excessive enthusiasm about fulfilling his mission. But Cygnar is now at war with a neighboring kingdom, The Protectorate, and they need all of the skills Madigan can bring to bear to turn a platoon of the sorriest bunch of misfits the army has ever seen into elite Storm Knights and lead them into battle.

Up to the point where Madigan and his merry men head off to fight the Protectorate, things are pretty interesting, but after that point, nothing truly novel or amusing happens, in my opinion. I pushed on through to the end, because Correia at his worst is still pretty good. I think the book has a game tie-in of some sort, too, and this may be a chronicle of some RPG adventure set to paper. If you insist on owning the Compleat Correia, go for it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Ironwyrm Affair by Lilith SaintCrow

 So, I think I got about twenty five or thirty pages into this on before I gave up. Either there were books in other series that would have explained the alternate steampunk world I jumped into, or the book simply did a poor job of setting the scene. I felt like the major characters, a sorceress and a "mentath", had huge backstory issues that I was never going to understand without reading the back stories. Saintcrow's wikipedia page didn't give me enough information to find out what stories could have gone before this one, so I imagine she'll end up me, at least. Pity, as I actually purchased a copy of this book, and would have probably continued to buy them, had I been able to find my way.

Ah well.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Good News

It appears that the Google team was able to renew my domain after all - no thanks to any of their (totally nonexistent) customer support. So y'all can enjoy another year of my babbling, rambling and ranting.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Scalzi has gone in a new and rather cool direction with this near future plague novel, served up as a mystery. A highly contagious disease, Haden's syndrome, similar to meningitis and polio, has swept the world, killing millions and leaving millions more "locked in", completely paralyzed, though fully aware of their surroundings. As the First Lady of the U.S. was one of the early victims, the government threw massive resources into researching the disease, and while a cure has not been found, a palliative measure has been massively adopted - the implantation of neural nets in the brains of the victims, through which they are able to control android bodies called "threeps" (Star Wars fans will get it) and go about the semi-normal functions of daily life. There is also a virtual realm open to the Hadens, called The Agora, where they can interact more fully with others of their kind. There is a third type of Haden's victim, who make a full physical recover from the disease, but their brain structure is changed to the point where, with the implanting of a neural network, and some specialized training, they can allow the paralyzed Hadens to use their body to experience the real world for a time. They are called Integrators, and they are well-paid.

At the beginning of the story, new legislation has been passed which will remove most of the government funding supporting government research and medical treatment for this victim class. One of the Hadens, Chris Shane, the son of a prominent billionaire and Senate candidate, is starting his first day on the job as an FBI agent as things kick off. He and his partner, Leslie Vann, a former Integrator, are assigned to a murder case involving an Integrator, and things get complicated from there. There's a good "cop buddy movie" vibe to their interactions - veteran and rookie style.

Ok, so Scalzi has to use the cardboard cutout popular villain of the Left, the unscrupulous billionaire, to provide the impetus for the plot device, and it's fairly obvious that the Hadens are allegorical stand-ins for whatever the victim du jour of the Progressives happens to be, as they are insulted, assaulted and subject to both overt and subtle prejudice from "normal" people.

Despite this, it remains a good and entertaining story, and Scalzi's exploration of the whole "what if?" of an epidemic which leaves its victims unable to interact with the world in any normal fashion, and the technology arising from such a situation, as well as the potential economic, social and political effects, makes for a quick, yet thought provoking tale.

Sometimes, in investigative mystery novels, the protagonist has to travel to different locations, and loses time doing so, while the killer is  going about his plotting and mayhem. But Shane can simply jump to a "rent a threep" at Alamo or Hertz, in L.A. or Alburquerque. So that was a new twist. There's also a simple fact about Shane that caught me completely by surprise about two thirds of the way through the book, which in retrospect Scalzi foreshadowed quite nicely.

In the afterward, as he is thanking people, he mentions that he won a Hugo for Redshirts. Really? I must have missed something there, as I thought it was nowhere near his best work.

If you were a bit discouraged by the last couple of Scalzi's novels, this one will be a very pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen by Dana Cowin

 I think my hero, Chef Jacques Pepin, recommended this book. Cowin is editor-in-chief for Food & Wine, and has gathered a nice collection of well-tested recipes that are, perhaps, a bit more pretentious than my normal fare, but definitely worth experimenting with. Each recipe has a brief story, and often a selection of cooking tips from world class chefs (most of whom I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of). Not a page-turner that keeps you up at night, but it definitely stretches the old creativity muscles for those of us who have a touch of foodie madness.

Chef Suzanne Goin shares a useful tip regarding the proper ratio of oil and vinegar in vinaigrette.

"All vinegars have differing acidity, but almost every one (and this goes for lemon juice too) works at a 2:1 oil-to-vinegar ratio - although most people say the perfect ratio is 3:1. Red wine vinegar is the only exception. It is stronger and more acidic than other vinegars and works best at 5 tablespoons olive oil to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar."

I probably should have been a vegetarian, did not my carnivorous urges rule, as I took many notes in the Vegetables section.

I could definitely relate to Cowin when she said, "I grew up eating 'square' spinach." I was totally shocked when I first saw what spinach leaves looked like, when I learned to make a spinach salad for an early restaurant job. The only other type I'd seen was Popeye's - out of a can.

Chef Alice Waters prefers "juicy, fat asparagus with really tight ends - unless they're thin wild asparagus", but I've always preferred the pencil-sized stalks that are only available in the first rush of Spring. She also says never to refrigerate asparagus, raw or cooked.

Chef Seamus Mullen relates a handy tip for keeping corn from being overcooked and dry when grilling it - soak it in a brine for a couple of hours while still in the husk.

If you like to roast tomatoes, and are having consistency issues, owner of Craft restaurants Tom Colicchio suggests using plum tomatoes, as they contain less moisture than other varieties.

I learned a new term, frico. Fricos are shredded cheese crisps. I think I've inadvertently created them while toasting my home made cheesy breads. Lidia Bastianich says that the best frico cheeses are Parmesan, Grana Padano and Montasio. I think I need to visit Whole Foods to find the last two.

Cowin's recipe for Brocolli Rabe Pizza reminds me of one of the most delicious sandwiches I have ever tasted, Tommy DieNic's cheesesteak topped with Brocolli Rabe found in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market.

An out of the blue idea I'd have never thought of - butternut squash cubes in chili!

The Greek Chicken Salad recipe looks fantastic! I must try this.

Legendary chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry says that for perfectly burnished skin on a roast chicken, you should let the bird air dry for at least two hours (preferably longer), and make sure the bird is at room temperature before placing it in the oven. I'm sure the health department would take issue with holding the bird at room temperature - too much time to allow bacterial growth, but if you're non-commercial and you cook the bird thoroughly, go for it!

I would never have guessed this was important - Chef Edward Lee says of meat loaf, "Don't overwork the meat mixture - that guarantees a dense meat loaf. Mix the ingredients just enough to distribute the flavors evenly. Don't be tempted to squeeze the meat."

One interesting idea from Chef Bryant Ng - Incorporate curry paste in the crust for chicken pot pie. Hmmm. My next kiwi savory pie experiment just got more interesting.

There are many interesting recipes for sauces to accompany or marinate meats, from seafood to steak, from chimichurri to jerk sauce to chermoula.

Something I hadn't thought of in the art of cooking, from Chef Jerry Traunfel of Poppy,
"Balance is one of the most important principles in cooking. In a dish, it's about balance of sweet and sour, salty and bitter, crisp and soft. In a menu, it's about balancing light and rich, spicy and cooling, hot and cold."

Another important tip, should I ever prepare quinoa, Rinse the quinoa before cooking it. Rinsing removes the saponin, a natural coating which can taste soapy.

I love Mario Batali's phrase regarding cooking pasta in plenty of water, "pasta needs room to dance". Chef Cesare Casella says the same thing about cooking beans, and also tips us never to put anything acidic in the pot while cooking beans, as it will keep them from softening.

Another new (to me) term, fideos, refers to toasted broken pasta cooked in a rich tomatoey sauce. Bookmark that recipe, with chorizo chipotle. Mmmm.

Cowin mentions her attempt to make strawberry jam and ending up with a delicious syrup instead. I had the same experience with raspberries a couple of summers ago! Pectin is our friend.

I bake frittatas regularly for breakfast. It's a great make-ahead dish, and I can prepare enough in a 9 x 13 baking pan for a week's worth of working man's breakfasts. Chef Hugh Acheson tells us, surprisingly, that frittatas should never be baked, but prepared in a nonstick pan on the stovetop. I'll have to give that a try next time.

Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery, tells us that for the smoothest crepe batter to use a blender to mix the ingredients. My daughter loves crepes - she should try this. There's a whole page full of baking tips from Ms. Chang, from rolling out dough to making fluffy biscuits - "a shaggy dough is a good biscuit dough". She also says you must use a scale to measure flour, as measuring cups will yield varying amounts of flour for a given volume due to the density of the flour.

This book is definitely on my wish list. I need to have a copy laying around the kitchen to browse for fun and interesting ideas and tips - there's a whole page of chef tips on biscuit making, for Pete's sake!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

 A very interesting concept here, as Priest steals a page from Saberhagen's Dracula books and makes us look at a villain, Lizzie Borden, in a whole new perspective. As it turns out, Borden's parents were either possessed or infected by a supernatural disease, which was slowly turning them into violent monsters, and she acted in defense of herself, her sister, and the entire town by hacking them to death with an axe. Though she was acquitted of murder, she has never been treated the same by her neighbors since that dreadful day, and she and her sister, Emma, have carried on secret research into the nature of the infestation that twisted their parents, and have been fighting off attacks from monstrous creatures ever since that day.

The whole concept has a very deeply disturbing Lovecraftian darkness, and a hanging dread infuses the story. Like Tess of the d'Urbervilles, I kept pushing through hoping for a light in the tunnel, but there are no happy endings here, and we leave the novel more mystified than when we first began. Though the story is told from a handful of different points of view, I didn't feel that Priest did a very good job of distinguishing their voices; they all sounded much the same to me, stylistically, even while their perspective on matters changed. Not my cup of tea, but an intriguing idea, at least.

I wouldn't be adverse to trying another one of Priest's series, anyway.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Eat the Rich by P.J. O'Rourke

 I don't read enough of O'Rourke. Those books of his which I have read, however, I have enjoyed, and Eat the Rich is no letdown, either. O'Rourke takes us on a journalistic journey through the wilds of Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Tanzania, Cuba, Hong Kong and Shanghai, touring the economic landscape in his understated humorous way.

His conclusion, after all his exploration, seems to be that the worst people to put in charge of an economy...are economists. The best thing a government can do for an economy is just to get the heck out of the way, it appears.

Interesting factoids from around the globe:

Though we all think that the stock market is either all in a bear cycle or all in a bull cycle, with shares changing hands everywhere, "There are 207 billion shares registered on the Ne York Stock Exchange. In an absolute buying and selling frenzy, less than 0.6 percent of those shares changed hands. Investment usually stays invested."

In O'Rourke's dry humor "...the study of economics is divided into two fields, microeconomics and macroeconomics. Micro is the study of individual economic behavior, and macro is the study of how economies behave as a whole. That is, microeconomics concerns things that economists are specifically wrong about, while macroeconomics concerns things economists are wrong about generally."

An interesting method for teaching economics was related by nineteenth century expert Alfred Marshall,

"(1) User mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than as an engine of enquiry. (2) Keep to them until you have done. (3) Translate into English (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics."

A treatise on the nature of money,

"Anything that's used to measure value, if it has value itself, is commodity money. Societies that didn't have fifty-dollar bills picked one or two commodities as proto-simoleons. The Aztecs used cocoa beans for money, North Africans used salt (hence salary), medieval Norsemen used butter and dried cod, and heir ATM machines were a mess."

On dining in a Russian restaurant,

"The next night I went to Uncle Gillie's, which had California cuisine in perfection. My chicken had not only been allowed to range free, it had been given aroma therapy and stress counseling."

and Russian business practices,

"Russia does not yet have an effective system of civil law. The only way to enforce a contract is, as it were, with a contract - and plenty of enforcers. What would be litigiousness in New York is a hail of bullets in Moscow. Instead of a society infested with lawyers, they have a society infested with hit men. Which is worse, of course, is a matter of opinion."

The money quote, wherein according to Marx's theory of Surplus Value, anytime you hire someone, you are exploiting him.

"The terrific corruption that now exists in Russia was not caused by the collapse of Marxism-Leninism. It was caused by Marx and Lenin."

Experts occasionally blame lack of education for Tanzania's woes, but Tanzanians,

"were exposed to science, math, and technology by Muslims, beginning in the eighth century. That's 800 years before anyone who could read or recite multiplication tables arrived in North America. True, Arab traders came for the purposes of stealing slaves and pillaging ivory. But the harbingers of civilization rarely arrived anywhere in order to deliver Girl Scout cookies."

On baboons,

"I wondered if this troop was us four million years ago. If so, the baboons are probably plotting revenge upon thepredators. 'Soon as we evolve, we take the natural habitat and pave its ass.'"

On Hong Kong,

"Laissez-faire isn't Tanzanian administrative sloth or Albanian popular anarchy. Quite a bit of government effort is required to create a system in which government leaves people alone."

All joking aside, O'Rourke's sum total of what is required for a person or a nation to prosper is the following six ingredients:

  • Hard work
  • Education
  • Responsibility
  • Property rights
  • Rule of law
  • Democratic government

A good and entertaining read, though a bit dated, being published in 1998, though my impression is that what we've seen in the last decade and a half is pretty much more of the same from these countries and areas where he traveled.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chosen by Benedict Jacka

 I sincerely believe that Jacka has truly hit his stride with the Alex Verus series with this book. Let us hope he hasn't peaked too soon, instead. I picked up the book around 8 PM, and didn't put it down until 10:30, finished. There's about two pages of relative calm at the beginning of the book, as Alex, Luna, Sonder, Anne and Variam play a game of Settlers of Catan (which Alex pointedly avoids winning with his divination skills) when the action starts with him confronting a spy on the rooftops.

Soon after that, he is attacked by a group of vigilante adepts in the middle of a casino, where he is teaching Luna to use her power to manipulate random chances, and comes extremely close to dying. Only Anne's healing powers pull him back from the brink of death. The band of bravos, called the Nightstalkers, are after Alex because of his role in the abduction and murder of Catherine Traviss at the behest of his former master, Richard. Catherine's brother, Matt, leads the group.

Coincidentally? the Council's enforcers, the Keepers, are interested in talking to Alex about his former master, who is rumored to be returning from wherever he has disappeared to for the last decade. Alex is uncertain about Catherine's true fate, so he decides that the best way to stop the Nightstalkers is to find out if she is still alive somewhere, thereby removing Matt's reason for vengeance.

Alex voyages into the Elsewhere, a dream realm where he may be able to scan the memories of one of his former fellow dark apprentices, Rachel, now known as Deleo. When he gets there he is guided by the shade of Shireen, another one of Richard's apprentices, and we get a couple of great installments of Alex's back story at last, as well as, by the end of the story, an explanation of Deleo's madness and a glimpse of some of the light vs. dark struggles which are on the way. Alex gains a new "ally", Keeper Caldera, who is the lead investigator into Richard's whereabouts, and his friendships with his young adepts are seriously tested.

Here's hoping Jacka can maintain the quality of storytelling he's established in Chosen.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rats, Bats & Vats by Dave Freer and Eric Flint

 I think that Freer couldn't quite make up his mind what he was trying to write with Rats, Bats & Vats. It tries to be a serious war novel like The Forever War or Old Man's War, but reads like Bill, the Galactic Hero, more of a satirical work, as we tunnel and trudge through the battles against the alien M'agh with Sergeant Chip Connolly and his squad of seriously deranged genetically engineered rats and bats.

Unfortunately, the humor wasn't enough to save it, and the warfare wasn't intense enough to keep my attention. Gave it up about a quarter of the way through.