Monday, December 31, 2012

An Enduring Love by Farah Pahlavi

When I was in my first year of college, my roommate was from Iran. This was the year that the Iranian revolutionaries, under the direction of Khomeini, stormed the U.S. Embasssy and took our diplomats hostage for over 400 days. So, I found Farah Pahlavi's book interesting on a semi-personal level.

By most measures, Iran under the Shah was slowly working its way into the 20th century, leaving behind its tribal origins and building modern infrastructure, schools, and hospitals, and liberalizing its political structure gradually.

"(In 1925) The country was in the hands of tribal chiefs and large landowners, and the only law was the law of the strongest. The main resources had been handed over to foreigners: the British operated our oil; our army, or waht was left of it, took orders from Russian officers in the north and British officers in the south; Belgians ran our customs services, the Swedes our police, and so on...A quarter of a century later, the Iran I knew had schools, universities and hospitals; if the roads wer not all paved yet, they did at least exist; finally, the Trans-Iranian Railway linked the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. There was certainly a lot yet to be built, but for my parents' generation, who could see how much had been achieved, Reza Shah had given his country what Mustafa Kemal Attaturk had given Turkey: a bloodless industrial and cultural revolution."

Farah grew up somewhat privileged in a politically-connected family whose power derived somewhat from their descent from the Prophet Mohammed, though her father passed away when she was quite young. Of her father's illness, she writes:

"I was told Father had gone to Europe for treatment. It was a lie. He had died."

A cultural thing? It seems very strange to me that they would continue the fiction for several years.

When she was invited to attend a communist rally in Paris as a student there, she could not understand why all Iranians did not venerate the Shah, as her family did. It occurs to me that the royalists in Iran and elsewhere were, of course, strongly anti-communist - for their own preservation - and that the roots of the West's support of strong authoritarians in the Middle East most likely dates back to the Cold War, in a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sort of way. As long as the Assads, Hussein and Pahlavis opposed the Soviet threat, our governments did their best to keep them in power, even if it meant ignoring the need for democratic reforms and the human rights violations taking place there.

The Shah's previous wife had been unable to bear children, so obviously Farah was selected in hopes she'd be more fruitful, and she did, indeed, bear him four children, including a male heir. However, as a well-educated, somewhat modern, woman (she studied in Paris after finishing high school), she was probably responsible for many of the improvements that came to pass for the general population of Iran under his rule, especially in the area of women's rights.

"I inspected, I opened buildings and institutes, but while doing so, I watched, I listened and I learned. At the same time I received a lot of correspondence. These letters were extremely affecting; the often awkwardly expressed accounts of tragic situations enabled me to learn about the problems of the moment. In the farthest provinces people were still suffering great poverty, infant mortality was high, schools were few and far between, children lacked hygiene and were weakened by malnutrition."

To counter these problems, in 1962, the Shah announced his White Revolution, which included six great reforms:
  • Agrarian reform - those with extensive land holdings were required to sell certain portions of their property to the government, which parceled it out to the peasants. Governmental land registrars were also put into effect, replacing the role of the Islamic clergy - which cut off a major source of their income. (This obviously had repercussions later on because of the hostility of the imams. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the Shah's father had implemented civil law to replace sharia law, also reducing the authority and income of the clergy.)
  • Privatizing some state enterprises.
  • Nationalization of forests and pasture lands.
  • Reserving twenty percent of the shares in Iranian companies for workers and managers.
  • Giving women the right to vote and become candidates for election.
  • Creating a Literacy Corps, responsible for bringing literacy to remote areas. In the 1960s, the illiteracy rate in Iran was at 70 percent. Over the next twenty years, the problem was vanquished, and early successes with this program were responsible for the establishment of a national Public Health Corps and a Development Corps which taught modern farming methods.
Regarding western attacks on the pace of democratic reforms, the shah,

"...believed that Iran's economic awakening was still to fragile to survive a complete liberalization of society, a Western-style liberalization. 'The country still needs a decade of stability to get to that stage,' he would say, 'but I want my son to reign in a different way from me.' He had hoped to pass on to Reza a state that was ready for democracy."


"The most violent opponents of the monarchy were precisely these young people who had received state scholarships to study in the United States or Europe...within and without the country, the clandestine Communist Party and the extreme left continued recruiting young idealists or fanatics who wanted to overthrow the regime and install a popular dictatorship on the Soviet or Chinese model."

Sound familiar?

When the revolution heated up:

" became clear that 'liberals' and leftists, many of whom had nothing in common with the mullahs, adhered to their movement for access to the wider population. And so religion was shamelessly used as a tool to stir up the people, in particular by the communists, who had the banning of religious practice as one of their aims if they came to power. Each component of this heterogeneous revolutionary coalition...had an opportunistic interest in allying themselves with the others, but it was obvious that if one day they took control of the country, none of them would stop until they had eliminated their former associates - which is exactly what happened."

If, like me, you grew up during the 70s, and never really got the word from our negligent mainstream media about what really went on in the middle east, this book should prove interesting. Couple it with Queen Noor's book, and you'll begin to see some patterns.

2012 Wrap-up

So, this year my reading productivity seems to be a little off. It appears that I will only finish about 160 books. No idea why, exactly, but some of the non-fiction took me longer to finish than usual, and I was doing quite a bit of traveling. When I'm having fun on excursions, it cuts down on my leisure reading.  Consider me as inserting a mini-rant right here about how LinkedIn suddenly and without warning discontinued its Reading List by Amazon application, so my method of tracking how many books I read each year went away.

Not sure that I have a top ten list of my favorites this time around, but a handful of "Oscar" winners might be:

#1 Urban Fantasy Novel - Cold Days, by Jim Butcher
#1 Science Fiction Novel - Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold
#1 Fantasy Novel - Princeps, by L.E. Modessit, Jr.
#1 Non-Fiction - Broke, by Glenn Beck
#1 Thought Provoker - Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Here's hoping for a great year of reading to all of you, and one of finding blessings in the New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Around the Web

Talking about books over at From the Caer.

Sports Illustrated Football: Offense by Bud Wilkinson

Heh. This book is so old there's no picture on Amazon to go with it.
I was talking with my friend and supervisor, Chip, at work the other day and mentioned that I'd always wanted to find a book that outlined basic football strategies. The following day, there were these two books laying on my desk, he said he found them in the break room - a fortuitous coincidence.

This book really has some good information on basic offensive strategies and technicques for the offensive team, including blocking, pass patterns, and the responsibilities of each position. It doesn't have a lot of info on the latest developments by modern teams, but I'm pretty certain that the basics haven't changed, and that teams that teach and practice these basics probably have good success.

Often, when I'm watching a football game, I note that much of what the announcers have to say is the same thing over and over, such as,

"Well, the offensive line really needs to protect the passer today."


"The amazing thing about wide receiver Smith is that he runs a very consistent pattern, so the quarterback can throw the ball before he reaches that spot on the field."

And I think to myself, "I could say things like that. Why aren't I making the big bucks announcing games?"

This book is filled with just those sorts of basic things.

In Blocking Techniques:

"The position of the head is of paramount importance. Most poor blockers fail to bull their neck. Instead of holding their head directly over their shoulders, they tend to tilt it to the outside and look at the ground. They lose sight of the opponent and consequently miss the block."


"As the ball is snapped, the blocker moves directly at his opponent, keeping his eyes squarely on the belt buckle. As he approaches the area of contact, he should be in a low hitting position and have nough momentum to meet and if possible overpower the defender."

There's some good description of proper positioning of the arms on a handoff, which could explain many fumbles, when it's not correctly executed:

"The outside hand should be curled in slightly just inside the hip to block the ball if the quarterbsack extends it too far. The inside elbow should be up, with the forearm parallel to the ground, opening the target for the quarterback...A good ball carrier takes the hand-off from feel, watching only the defensive players in the area he will hit. If he looks for the ball, he'll lose sight of the defense and miss the holes."

There are some more recent editions of this book out there. I'd suggest reading them for any student of the game.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Telempath by Spider Robinson

Telempath is a pretty fair post-apocalyptic novel by Robinson. The premise is that a scientist, angered by the way humans have polluted the environment, releases a plague which gives people a sense of smell exponentially better than that of wolves, and most humans are driven mad by the odors of technology. Cities are rapidly depopulated, and many flee to the wilderness areas; even there they still need nose filters to tone down the extreme aromas. Ok, the usual suspects - Man bad, Nature good.

The plight of the survivors is further complicated by the appearance of the Muskies, plasmoid beings which attack humans for inexplicable (at the start of the book) reasons, and which men, with their improved sense of smell, can now detect at small arms range distances. The people of Fresh Start use pyrotechnic ammunition to explode the Muskies, as they are explosively flammable.

One of the scientist's former colleagues, Jacob Stone, founds a small enclave in upstate New York, Fresh Start, where he and some other refugees bring back a small amount of modern technology, mostly medical or weapons to defend against human and animal predators. The story begins when his son, Isham, is sent into New York City to find and execute the man responsible, Wendell Carlson. What Isham discovers in the city rattles his entire worldview, and he returns to his home a changed man, his vengeance redirected.

There's also an opposition group in the woods, called the Agros, led by a man named Jordan, who are most violently opposed to all technology, and who worship Pan. The main crisis point in the novel is reached when they kidnap Isham, and band together in force to destroy Fresh Start and all vestiges of its industry.

Once again, Robinson returns to a recurring them. If we can all only just get our minds right, and find common ground with ALL of our enemies through telepathy, empathy or telempathy, we can all live in peace with each other and with the Earth. Isham displays hitherto unsuspected abilities in that area, and - wonder of wonders - so does his love interest. Together, their love can conquer all.

Good for a couple hours diversion, anyway.

Around the Web

A book review on Bookworm Room's site.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tis the Season

Merry Christmas to all my readers! Hope you get lots of new books in your stockings.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson

Melancholy Elephants is a collection of Spider's short stories, mostly reprinted from his earlier collection, Antinomy. The title story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of legislating eternal copyrights for creators. The premise is that there are a finite number of stories that can be told, or melodies composed, and that when those are all used up, the human race could suffer from fatal depression. There's several tongue-in-cheek time travel stories, Half an Oaf, Chronic Offender and Father Paradox.

Robinson also includes a in-joke type of story for all you Beatles fans out there, Rubber Soul, about John Lennon being resurrected someday. High Infidelity, a story about one human aspect of brain transplant technology, contains some rather racy scenes. Spider also returns to a theme he finds fascinating in Satan's Children. An Abby Hoffman-like figure creates a drug that is the ultimate truth serum. What happens to the world when it is widely dispersed becomes another singularity event. From that tale,

"Even those of us who pay only lip service to the truth know what it is, deep down in our hearts. And we all believe in it, and know it when we see it. Even the best rationalization can fool only the surface mind that manufactures it; there is something beneath, call it the heart or the conscience, that knows better. It tenses up like a stiff neck muscle when you lie, in proportion to the size of the lie, and if it stiffens enough it can kill you for revenge...Most people seem to me, in my cynical moments, to keep things stabilized at about the discomfort of a dislocated shoulder or a tooth about to abscess. They trade honesty off in small chunks for pleasurem and wonder that their lives hold so little joy."

Robinson occasionally approaches truth in his writing, and this books is a joy to read, for the most part.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


How exciting. WooRank says I have the 22,518,919th most visited website in the World. That makes for a very complicated cheer, "We are number ...."

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle

I really enjoyed Peter Mayle's tales of his life in Provence, which I have reviewed earlier, so when I heard that he had written some mysteries, I felt they might be worth checking out - literally, from the local library. In The Vintage Caper, Mayle introduces us to former bad boy turned sleuth, Sam Levitt, "former corporate lawyer, cultivated crime expert, and wine connoisseur." A thoroughly unlikeable entertainment lawyer in Hollywood has had his most prized acquisitions stolen from his acclaimed wine collection, and Levitt's old flame, Elena, an insurance investigator calls Sam in to take advantage of his expertise and unorthodox methods in solving the heist.

As one might expect, from someone with his experiences in France, Mayle, when the tale eventually ends up in Marseilles, fills this story with wonderful bits of detail about Frenchmen, Frenchwomen, viniculture and haute cuisine. There's really not a lot of suspense, thrilling action, sex or violence here, as Sam methodically cons his way into the home and cellar of a rich and powerful local, locates the missing wine, and recovers the loot for the insurance company. No false leads to speak of, and the only red herrings to be found are at the bottom of a bowl of bouillabaisse.

A fun read for Francophiles, and I'll probably read the sequel, as well, though it's not typical mystery fare.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Wanted Man by Lee Child

Reacher rocks again! He just falls into these situations, when he's totally trying to mind his own business. As the story begins, Reacher is standing on the onramp of an Interstate near Omaha, trying to hitch a ride to Virginia to meet up with a woman he only knows from talking to her on the phone. He's sporting a broken nose from his most recent mishaps and adventures, and isn't a likely candidate for most people to pick up in the middle of the night. Finally he's given a ride by three people who claim to be coworkers for an unnamed company, headed home after a long sales trip - two men and a woman.

However, the two men are a pair of murderers being pursued by the local sheriff and the FBI, and the woman is their hostage. The men have threatened to kill her if she tells Reacher anything, but they've picked both him and the women up in order to confuse the law enforcement types on the lookout for two men traveling by themselves. It doesn't take Reacher long to figure out that something is not quite right in this scenario, but before he can do as we expect and rescue the woman from her captors, he is left at a motel in the middle of nowhere after one of the men takes a pistol shot at him and misses, badly.

Reacher eventually hooks up with FBI agent Sorenson, a tough Scandinavian woman with a no-nonsense attitude, who nevertheless falls for Reacher's directness and honesty and agrees not to arrest him while they pursue the fugitives together. The whole situation is not exactly as it seems, and Reacher has stumbled into a massive counterrorism operation being run by a number of TLAs, full of double and triple agents, domestic and foreign terrorists, and just a handful of local yokels caught in the dragnet.

We don't see Reacher's usual emphasis on mano a mano physical combat in this book, but when the action finally comes, it's fast, furious, and bloody. I had a very tough time putting this one down at bedtime.

Oh, by the way, there's a description of Reacher on page 156. It sounds nothing at all like Tom Cruise. What's wrong with film makers these days?

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter

You know how there are some taste combinations that go well together? And there are some collaborations that produce synergistic works far better than either author has ever produced alone? Well, this isn't one of those times, I'm afraid. I have, over the years, enjoyed many books by Pratchett, and a good number by Baxter, and so I looked forward to seeing their work together, and was disappointed by what I found.

The premise is that there are literally millions of parallel Earths in existence, and that occasionally odd individuals have either had the natural ability or the ability under great duress to slip from one world to another - in a Fortean manner. When an inventor assembles a simple gadget that can be made from parts to be found at Radio Shack, with a potato for a battery, and distributes the instructions on its construction widely, the world is suddenly graced with thousands, or millions of universe-walking people, or Steppers.

And thus begins the interminable, or shall I say "Long," tale of people's travels in the universes of the Long Earth. I managed to stick it out about halfway through before sheer disinterest in the fates of any of the characters caused me to give up at last.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

 One fringe benefit of reading this book was that I finally found out what genre Santa Olivia and Saints Astray belong to - postmodern fables - it's on the back cover blurb about the author. In Kushiel's Dart and the books about Phedra and Terre d'Ange that follow it, Carey created a masterpiece, an epic, an amazing piece of historical fantasy fiction - a very tough act to follow. In Dark Currents, she leaps into the world of urban fantasy, and I frankly have no idea why, aside from "all the cool kids are doing it". Don't get me wrong, she's still a very skilled writer, even when she's writing soulless drivel. If you haven't read any of her earlier novels, that's great, you'll be able to enjoy this new one without prejudice.

Daisy Johanssen is a demon-spawn, quite literally. Her mother was impregnated by an incubus, and decided to raise her child in the human world, in a small town in the midwest called Pemkowet. Pemkowet has either the fortune or misfortune to be the current site of a sprout of Yggsdrasil, and the seat of power of the goddess Hel of Norse mythology, and Daisy - all grown up, is her liason between the eldritch and the mundane world. Daisy works as a file clerk in the police station, but when there appears to be something odd about the "accidental" drowning of a local college kid, she gets dragged into the investigation, and paired with Officer Cody Fairfax, one of the local werewolves, on whom she's had a secret crush since childhood.

It's an amusing little mystery tale, with plenty of supernatural window dressing. The tale is pretty much PG, suitable for teen audiences - any actual sex and graphic violence take place offstage. Unlike most urban fantasy heroines, at least Daisy doesn't need to be persuaded to use her friends to help out as necessary, which is refreshing. Read this one on its own merits, it's in the upper percentiles of the urban fantasy being published already.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Success in the U.S.

My friend and pastor, Dave, was talking some time ago about his experiences with marriage counseling. By and large, he says, most people who come in for counseling are really just looking for a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, and they're really not interested in fixing the problems in their marriage. He'll listen to their problems and give them good, solid, scripture-based advice on what they need to do next, but probably only about 10% of them actually do what he's told them needs to be done.

I'm noticing the same sort of thing on a number of personal finance blogs I peruse. There are those lurkers in the comments who read all the advice posted, then make a point of posting comments about why it doesn't and could never apply to them, and that they're just victims of a system rigged to keep the poor folks down.

Now, one can only really judge what's possible or impossible, in most cases, from personal experience, or perhaps anecdotal experience of friends, but I'm just stunned at times by this attitude. First, though you wouldn't perhaps think it to look at us now, M and I have been poor. We've started out at minimum wage jobs a number of times in our lives. The key thing is that we never believed that was all there was, and we never stayed there (either at minimum or at that job, depending on circumstances) for very long.

I've observed over the last several years, a number of refugee families affiliated with our church, that have come to this country with basically the shirts on their backs, who have worked their way out of poverty and into solid middle class citizenry. So, you can't tell me it isn't possible to start with nothing in this country, even today, and end up successful, no matter your background. By the way, these folks are seriously BLACK, from Africa, and their English is not the best, if you think that racial prejudice - in Idaho no less - is holding people down.

Goes back to the old adage: Say you can't or say you can; either way you're right.

One of the most "surprising" conlusions of recent surveys in this country: it's easier to become wealthy if you start out with rich parents. No Kidding?

Doesn't mean the poor can't become wealthy, it's just a bit tougher. Was it McArthur who said, "the difficult we do right away, the impossible takes a bit longer"?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Darkship Thieves by Sarah Hoyt

This novel really starts off with a great "hook". The heroine, Athena, is wakened from peaceful slumber in her Daddy's space yacht by the surreptitious treads of kidnappers or organleggers, or... Her general all around sneakiness and orneriness, combined with her lightning fast reflexes and mad combat skills enable her to elude the thugs and jump into an escape pod, in which she careens crazily through the asteroid belt...or some such.

An earlier, more technologically advanced civilization, sometime in the period after the fall of the USA to a central world government, developed a "plant" that grows energy pods, which absorb the solar rays and store them for later. Spacefarers harvest the pods before they grow too ripe and explode, and use them to power space ships and space stations, and all things spacey. When Athena dives into the heart of one of these power plants to hide from the aspiring abductors, she runs into (literally) a craft belonging to one of the Darkship Thieves, folks who were exiled long ago from Earth because of their extensive genetic biomodifications. Any who remained on the planet were lynched and horribly executed. Some of the exiles now live in secret in a hollowed out asteroid, and Athena's new acquaintance, Kit, is one of those folks.

So Kit (with modifications that make him look like a cat - really? Kit the Cat?) and Thena get along like the proverbial cat and dog (though she's really more of a fox), which tells you right away they're going to end up falling in love, right? I mean, how obvious can you get? Kit's world is organized politically and socially along libertarian lines. Unfortunately, aside from bits and dribbles here and there about how their laws, or lack thereof, affect Thena in her interactions with them, Hoyt doesn't really fully develop the background society, it just hovers there like some wafted in bit of scenery in a Broadway musical.

While it doesn't seem glaringly obvious to Thena that she's actually the beneficiary of some illegal and unapproved biological modifications, herself, it's obvious to the reader from nearly the start. She's almost as fast and strong as Kit, has incredible reflexes, and somewhere along the way discovers that she can communicate with him psionically, as well. Much of the middle portion of the book is dedicated to how she finally realizes she's got it bad for Kit, and unraveling some of his deep, dark, embarassing secrets. There's a bone tossed to Heinlein readers in the character of a family doctor who knows the truth, and who seems an awful lot like Jubal Harshaw in the way he acts and speaks his lines.

The style of the book seemed just a little too similar to some old SF, like E.E. "Doc" Smith's stuff, or some of the Burroughs Mars novels, for me to fully enjoy it. A touch contrived. Wondered if this was Hoyt's first novel. I'm torn about whether to spend the money for the second book in the series, or see if her fantasy novels are any better.

I stuck with it just to find out why the goons were trying to abduct her in the first place, but I grumbled a few times during the trip, "Are we there yet?"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is back - in the flesh this time. After his body is preserved by Demonreach and Mab takes care of his physical rehabilitation (wonderful nod to The Princess Bride in how she does it), it's time for a whole new set of challenges. First he must establish his position as the new Winter Knight with the Winter court. He attends a ball in his "honor" accompanied by his lovely nurse, Sarissa, and confronts the lovely yet treacherouse Maeve and her thugs, acquitting himself well - he survives, anyway, which usually counts as a victory for Harry.

Mab gives Harry his first assignment, to kill her daughter, Maeve. He heads back to Chicago to try to figure out the why and how of it. He visits his old friend, Butter's apartment to gain possession of Bob, the spirit in the skull. Parenthetically, here is where I get a little confused, as I was thinking that Bob was a former wizard being punished by being locked in the skull forever, but here, Butcher defines Bob as being merely a spirit of knowledge locked in the skull for centuries.

Harry then has a less-than-tearful reunion with his half-brother, Thomas, down at the boat (where Harry was killed in the first place), and the two of them head to Demonreach so that Harry can consult the spirit of the island, as well. He learns that Demonreach is actually a prison for a vast number of evil beings, constructed by the legendary Merlin long ago, and that he has been chosen as its Warden. The prison is under attack by forces unknown, and if the attack is successful, all of those Chtulhu-spawn or worse will be loosed upon the world, but even if it isn't, the island's defenses may turn Chicago into Krakatoa gone wild.

There is plenty of good action here, as Harry fights with all of the different forces that want to keep him from accomplishing his various missions; kill Maeve, protect Demonreach, save the world. With the help of his minions like Toot and the pixie warriors, his family and friends such as Thomas, Karen, and Molly, and even his dog, Mouse, Harry mostly bulls his way through most obstacles.

But there's also a great exposition in these pages about the greater battles being fought. All of the crazy things that have happened to Harry, the evils he has fought, through the entire series, have been merely symptoms of the larger conflict, which he is finally made aware of when he visits the Mothers of Summer and Winter, and journeys to the outer reaches of Faerie, where the Outsiders have our world under siege. Yeah, Harry's a grownup now, and it's time for him to finally get a real job.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Into the Woods by Kim Harrison

Into the Woods seems to be the official apocrypha for The Hollows series. There is a story  about Rachel that takes place before she becomes a runner, which explains some of the family dynamics that motivated her to succeed, yet gave her the poor self image we see in the early books in the series. Trying to raise her father's ghost to get his approval of her career choice goes slightly awry, and leads to some interesting times.

We have a tale of Jenks striking out on his own in a bit of mutual pixie aid, and a tale of Jenks and Trent in a daring rescue of Trent's daughter from her mother's family. Ivy also appears in a fairly long tale that explains more about her relationship with Kisten, the vampire community at large, and her readiness to take Rachel as her partner.

There are a couple of other tales, as well, that relate to other bits of Harrison's work, but it's mostly all about The Hollows.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mad Money

...and now for something completely different...

Most experts will agree that one should have an emergency fund. What they all argue over, however, is just how big it should be. No matter what they recommend, I think the answer to this is very personal, and totally dependent on an individual's financial situation.

The closest thing to a consensus on this issue seems to be that you should have 3 to 6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund. The assumption in this case is that if you were to lose your job, you could survive without any income for long enough to find another comparable job, and in the job market for the last ten years or so, that could take 3 to 6 months.

If you work in a pizza parlor, then you can probably find another pizza parlor job in a week, so by this reasoning, you really only need to keep a week's salary in your emergency fund. But what about other types of emergencies, like an unexpected medical expense, the transmission going out on your car, or the water heater giving up the ghost? You can see that basing your emergency fund requirements on income replacement as a sole criteria might or might not work well.

I prefer to look at an emergency fund from the standpoint of having a cash cushion. Maybe it's my wargaming experience, but I also like to approach it with a strategy of having multiple layers of defense.

My first layer is a simple cash cushion in my checking account, that I don't write down in the checkbook. It's there basically for three reasons: 1) I might make a mistake in my arithmetic or forget to write something down, and end up with less than a zero balance in my account. If the cushion is there, no worries, no overdraft charges, and I keep on moving right along. 2) My wife might write a check or use the debit card for a purchase without looking at the balance in checking. If this happens, I'm covered, no worries. 3) I might run across a spectacularly good deal on something, and need immediate cash to buy it, I can use up to the amount in the cushion, and take advantage of my good luck.

My second layer is where I break from the experts. It's my Visa card. It has a high credit limit, and in most emergencies people have no problem accepting it for payment. When the fuel pump on my pickup truck died in the middle of the freeway, I used it to pay the tow truck driver and the repair shop. Since I never carry a balance from month to month, I pay no interest on the money I borrow with it. I hope that I never have to use it to cover living expenses for a long period of time, because that wouldn't be smart, but for most things, it's a quick solution to a problem, and I can use the grace period to access my next layer of defense. If you're the sort of person who cannot pay off their credit cards every month, or who carries a large balance, this is not a wise "emergency fund" choice.

My third layer is a "high yield" savings account online. If I need the money for something immediate I can have it transferred to my checking account overnight. It's highly liquid, and earns a typical rate of return for a savings account.

The fourth layer is some "naked" investments in stocks and mutual funds. These aren't tied up in my 401K or IRA, but are available for me to sell off as needed for cash. I can sell them well within the grace period on the credit card, though I might take a paper loss by doing so. If the loss is less than the interest rate hit for carrying the balance would be on the credit card, then it's a good decision.

As I said before, the emergency fund depends entirely on your personal situation, and a highly paid individual in a volatile profession with dependents might want to go with the 3 to 6 month salary option, but at the very least a person ought to have a bit of cash laying around somewhere safe, earning a spot of interest, for those odd emergencies we all experience, so as not to have to make a choice between eating or paying the heat bill.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crawling Between Heaven and Earth by Sarah Hoyt

On the Baen books website, there has been for quite some time now, an area called the Baen Free Library, where Jim Baen encouraged his stable of authors to post a free electronic version of one or more of their works, so that readers would download them, try it out, and be encouraged to buy more work by that author. I don't know how that all actually worked out for them in the long haul, though early numbers were encouraging, but it doesn't appear since Baen's passing to have been promoted very heavily, and not much new stuff has been appearing. Anyway, after stumbling upon Sarah Hoyt's blog over the Thanksgiving holiday, I checked and found that I had a copy of this book from the Free Library already loaded on my Nook, and decided to "try before I buy".

This book isn't one of Hoyt's novels; it's a collection of short stories with no coherent theme - just a pretty good collage of her writing style and skills.

There's a pretty good fantasy story set in the time of Shakespeare, with the bard and his brother prominently featured, which left me thinking once again to myself that I really should dig into the massive tome of the Compleat Workes gathering dust in my library, as I couldn't tell whether some of the things old Billy had to say were direct quotes from his works, or just good stylistic imitations by Hoyt. She evidently has several novels set in this milieu, which may prove entertaining at a later date.

There's a couple of nominal SF stories about the fate of clones, one of which is wrapped around a mythological core of the story of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur. The other one was an even more tawdry tale about prostituting the clones of famous females, like Marilyn Monroe. Given the way her image and others are already being used in CGI commercials I don't find it all that far-fetched...aside from the whole cloning technology thing actually working, of course.

There's an intriguing ghost story, too, and lots of other tales, to introduce you to Hoyt's works. I found most of them a bit depressing, but still good enough to merit my actually buying and downloading one of her novels. The Free Library concept works.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Victims by Jonathan Kellerman

There's really not much about this Alex Delaware novel that makes it all that different from the first twenty six. It is a solid piece of workmanship of the type we have come to expect from Kellerman over the years. No need to introduce us to the characters, we know Milo and Alex and Alex's girlfriend, Robin, and all of the folks down at the precinct well enough to get along and enjoy the mystery.

As per the formula, Alex and Milo split up the work of tracking down and eliminating all the false leads from the latest gruesome murder, when a nasty harridan is gutted in her lonely apartment. No one likes her, not even her sister or her ex-husband, her coworkers all despise her, her shrink found her off putting, and even random strangers she encountered came to loathe her and wish her dead. Plenty of fodder for the red herrings.

Of course, it becomes a bit more complicated when the second body is discovered, murdered and mutilated in the same way. This time it's a man whom everybody loves, no one has an unkind word to whisper to the investigative duo as they flail blindly trying to find either a reason he might have been killed, or some sort of connection with the first victim. Of course, more innocents must die, and the pressure be ratcheted up on Milo and Alex to solve the case, before their first real break comes out of the blue. Once the bloodhounds are pointed in the right direction, things begin to fall into place rapidly, with only a couple of odd plot twists to make it work out in the end.

A good evening's reliable entertainment, but that's all.