Book Report: Desperate Measures by Joe Clifford Faust (1989)

Book coverThis book is by the author of A Death of Honor; although I didn’t like that book a lot, the author Googled himself and commented on my book report on his blog and had better things to say about my book report than I had about his book. So the author earned some respect from me, and I thought I’d give him another chance.

Which turns out to be a good thing.

Whereas A Death of Honor was similar to Casablanca, this book is similar to Firefly–except the book preceded the television series, so it’s more in line with the genre of the scrappy interstellar traders. But the protagonists often operate outside the law, and the book features a Chinese syndicate, so in 2016, that earns a Firefly comparison. Which will be a known reference point for a couple more years, anyway.

You have May, a captain of his own ship (but indebted to the aforementioned Chinese syndicate) whose co-pilot steals the ship–or takes the ship in lieu of back wages–after a barroom altercation leaves the captain laid up for a while. May makes a drunken deal with a commodities trader on the planet who sells him beef at a discount for transit. But his new untrained co-pilot only meant transit to the other side of the planet, not another planet. Also, the beef might not have been his to sell.

The book is a series of such incidents without much of an overarching story arc aside from the episodic events, much like Firefly was before they screwed it up wrapping everything up in Serenity. This book is the first in a set of three, and I’ll keep my eyes out for the others in the series and the others by the author.

A Tale Of Two Stockings

I have two Christmas stockings:

My mother-in-law made the one of the left for me somewhere around the turn of the century; my sainted mother made the one on the right in the middle 1980s, when we were living in the trailer park and she came across some iron-on letters somewhere.

The one on the right hung with similar stockings with my mother and brother on the wall by the bedrooms in the house down the gravel road we lived on during our high school years; the one on the left hangs by the chimney at Nogglestead with similar stockings for my wife and children.

But I point out to my children that the difference in their appearance does not reflect a difference in the love with which they were made. Their grandmothers had differing skill levels at crafts and different gifts. So while my mother-in-law (for whom I really need a standing adjective–perhaps I will try “wonderful”) can make beautiful crafts with felt, glue, and spangles, she probably has not singlehandedly finished a basement or remodeled a bathroom.

It would be nice if the children could learn the lesson from this, that people have different talents and skill levels, and that’s okay. It’s a lesson many storybooks from their earlier years tried to convey, but my children are boys, so each must be the best at everything, or at least better than his brother. Which will only succeed ultimately in making one of them sadder than the other in each assumed competition.

No Word If Towanda Was Involved

VIDEO: SoCal parking lot fight turns into demolition derby:

A parking lot brawl between two women in South Los Angeles quickly escalated into a demolition derby.

Dramatic video captured fists flying in an apparent argument over a parking space near the 8400 block of South Western Avenue on Sunday.

Here at MfBJN, we have exclusive video of the altercation:

Brian J., is that a clip from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes? WE THOUGHT YOU WERE A MAN!

Gentle reader, I am man enough to sometimes let a woman pick the movie.

Brian J., is that the second day in a row where you’ve equated a news story with a clip from an early 1990s film?

Yes, sadly, it is. Real life is so derivative from pop culture these days, as people build their lives around memes and examples set by modern popular culture. Time was people tried to build lives from examples set by their parents, and culture such as classic literature they learned in school or church set good examples. Now, though, the race is on to build personal lives like people see on conflict-driven reality television.

Or maybe I’m just cynical.

(Link via the formerly One Hand Clapping guy, who blames a new culture of honor/shame arising.)

Not As Varied As Advertised

When I was younger and people asked me what music I liked, I proclaimed eclectic tastes. I listened to oldies. I listened to Album Oriented Rock (kids these days call it “classic rock”). I listened to country. I listened to pop. I even listened to jazz when I could find it.

Well, now I’m older, and nobody asks me that question any more because I’m old (they must assume it’s all 60s easy listening/Sinatra/Alpert, and they’re not far off). But judging by my Amazon purchases over the last six months, my musical taste has streamlined into two categories:

It’s all hard rock or jazz songbirds except for the Leonard Cohen and Lorde.

It’s either something to get me pumped up for the gym or something to mellow.

Although being it is the Christmas season, the one-for-you-one-for-me Amazon ordering protocol is in effect, so the ratios may change as I buy new music on whim. But given that I learn of new artists from the hard rock station on the radio, my Legion of Metal Friends Facebook group, or the radio stations I stream (KCSM and WSIE), perhaps they will not change much at all.

Book Report: Robotech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming by Jack McKinney (1994)

Book coverThis book contains the first three novelizations of the original Robotech cartoon series called the Macross Saga. Within it, an alien super spaceship crash lands on the earth, and the nations of Earth put aside war to study the ship and to rebuild it to defend should aliens come looking for it. When the aliens do, ten years later, the crew of the vast ship have only barely begun to understand its secrets, but they must defend against the aliens who attack with greater numbers and greater technological understanding.

The first book, Genesis, introduces the characters and some of the history of Earth and the Robotech project. We’ve got a wizened commanding officer of the ship; an all-woman bridge crew; an ace pilot; an inexperienced young pilot; a pretty girl who might be interested in the young pilot; and so on. After the alien attack, the ship lifts into the air and performs a hyperspace jump from within the Earth’s atmosphere, which carries away part of the Pacific island on which it crashed and the town that had grown up to support the research. Instead of just reaching orbit, the ship jumps to the outer edges of the solar system. The ship, the SDF 1, and its crew rescue the people that jumped with it and rebuild the city in one of the vast holds on the ship.

In Battle Cry, the alien fleet has found the SDF-1 and attack it a couple times as the ship makes its way home to earth over a number of months (as they do cannot make a hyperspace jump).

In Homecoming, the ship has returned to Earth but brought the alien fleet with them, so the leaders of Earth want the SDF-1 to leave and draw the alien fleet with them.

The first two books in the omnibus here are the better two; the third kind of leads to a continuation of the series and is not quite as self-contained.

But, you know, I have read a lot of television and movie tie-in books, and this set adds a lot of depth to a television cartoon series. They read pretty well without foreknowledge of the mythos, and they delve more deeply into the alien psychology and the motivations of the humans. Better than you can get in 20 some minutes of imported Japanese animation, anyway.

So it was a passing bit of space opera, but I’m not eager to run out and buy the rest of the series. I was disappointed, as I implied, with the end of the last book and its mere passing of the torch onto the next in the series without some sort of story arc ending and fear that the other books in the series would be more of that same.

But I’ve started to watch the cartoon series with my children, so we’ll see if it spurs us onto better shared memories.

You Can Play That Again

So I’m running through my music library, and I come to Quietdrive’s 2006 album When All That’s Left Is You. I’m not sure where I got it, whether it’s something my beautiful wife bought because she likes the band or something I picked up at a garage sale. The play count shows 0, but that might only mean that I haven’t played it since my Mac crashed.

But I chuckled when I got to track 9, “Time After Time”:

Why did I chuckle? Because in this abbreviated day where I’ve only been at my desk for three albums, the first was Naz’s Time After which also includes “Time After Time”:

Had I more time at the desk today, perhaps I should listen to Erin Bode’s Don’t Take Your Time which also features the track:

As it was, the album I listened to between Time After and When All That’s Left Is You was The Pretty Reckless’s Who You Selling For?. Although “Time After Time” is not on that album, given the lighter sound of The Pretty Reckless’s Second Album, it’s only a matter of time until Taylor Momsen gives it a go.

Meanwhile, I’m still wondering where this Quietdrive CD came from.

Book Report: Advanced French for Exceptional Cats by Henry Beard (1992)

Book coverThis book is by the same author as Poetry for Cats, and it comes from the same provenance (and perhaps Provence) as the earlier volume. In turning over my library this summer, it moved to the front, so I took the opportunity to read it.

A little less creative than the poetry for cats book, this book is a phrasebook for things cats might say translated to French. So it has sections about etiquette, taste, food, and so on. An Existentialist cat might say, “Have I caught this mouse, or is not I in fact who am trapped by the obligations of my own nature?” which is, in French, “Ai-je attrape attrapé cette souris ou est-ce que c’est moi qui suis en fait pris au piège de l’obligation de ma propre nature?”

So it’s an amusing browse, especially if you have cats. Apparently, Beard, a former National Lampoon editor, has a whole line of amusing education books for cats. I’ll keep an eye out for others at book fairs because they’re short and amusing, but I’m not going to run out to a book store to stock up on them. Which, honestly, I say pretty much about any author these days at best.

At Nogglestead, We Have A Word For It: Saturday

There’s a Word for Buying Books and Not Reading Them:

Suffering from the condition of racking up book purchases of $100, $200 or $1,000 without ever bending a spine? There’s a Japanese word for you.

Tsundoku: the acquiring of reading materials followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them

Actually, I have the intention of reading all these books. Mortality is working against me, though.

Book Report: Hiroshige: An exhibition of selected prints and illustrated books by Sebastian Izzard (1983)

Book coverThis book covers an exhibition of the works of Japanese artist Hiroshige, a printmaker from the early 19th century. As I have mentioned before in reviewing architecture and culture books from Korea and China, I prefer Western art to Oriental art, but I wanted to give a try to some more Oriental art to see if my judgment changes.

Well, not so much.

To be clear, this is a book of woodcut prints, which is different from pure painting and has a commercial purpose, which puts Hiroshige’s motivations more along the lines of Currier and Ives or Gil Evgren (Hiroshige even did some bijin-ga, beautiful women prints, when they were not illegal in Japan). Not that I’m dinging the commercial motivation for art; as the book reports linked suggest, I respect it and its productivity.

Hirohinge was very productive, with a number of series of prints over his decades-spanning career. Most of them are landscapes, but they’re landscapes with human figures. As I’ve said often when reviewing Monet’s work or other artists, I prefer landscapes with figures in them. So Hiroshige should fit right into my wheelhouse.

It’s interesting art, all right, and not bad to look at. I liked the snowy landscapes well enough. I imagine it’s on the more palatable (to me) end of Oriental art. The book, unfortunately, has most of the work in black and white with text describing the colors. Some of the items at the end are just listed without images at all, as this is something you’d probably have picked up at the exhibition and could follow along with as you went. (has the audio tour replaced this convention? You can’t take that with you.) Undoubtedly, it would have been better with the color images.

As I look at it, though, I wonder if I could turn any of these images into woodburning projects. As they’re woodcut block prints presented in black and white, I could perhaps stylize something. Perhaps if I get a table at a craft fair, woodburnings of Oriental themes would be popular.

So it’s worth a browse if you find one inexpensively and are curious about Oriental art. The book also served as a little bit of a wake-up call that, although I’ve looked into Chinese and Korean history, I’ve not read much up on Japan. Which I’ll have to do sometime. I don’t remember seeing any books about Japanese history at the library except where World War II is concerned. Maybe it’s off to ILL for me.

Now In Thrown Drink Version

Drops of Jupiter in her hair?

Now available when you dramatically throw this wine at someone!

And, honestly, as the Red Blend tastes like slightly sweet alcoholic prune juice, this is a drink for throwing.

For the record, Save Me, San Francisco winery is Train’s winery that donates to a San Francisco charity. All of the wines are named after Train songs. Also, I like Train.

Man, I have to stop buying novelty wines.

A More Manly Art

There’s something about autumn that makes me want to sit at my garage workbench and work on handicrafts. I think it’s the fact that, for two weeks, the temperature in the garage is between boiling and freezing. But after finishing the two coffee pots, I decided to take up a woodburning project.

On a recent trip to Hobby Lobby on one pretext or another, I picked up a stencil (it’s supposed to be a fabric painting stencil, I think) with an inspirational phrase “Make It Happen” on it.

So I put it on a block of wood.

The text uses a serif font, which means I had to use a fine tip for the serifs. I’m not a fan of the fine tips, as I’m not the most surgical hand in the OR. You can see I made a mistake on the K. Also, it looks as though it’s a little crooked and slightly off-center.

Still.

I don’t know why I’ve taken to woodburning as much as I have. I don’t work freehand; instead I get a stencil or trace something to then use my rudimentary woodburning tool on. So the work I do is pretty primitive, but it’s enjoyable and leaves one with an artifact. It’s like an adult coloring book where you use fire instead of a crayon.

Now that I’ve cleared it off of my work bench, I have room to do something else.

Book Report: The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant (1968)

Book coverThis book is a tl;dr edition of the Durants’ The History of Civilization series, which was ten volumes by the time this book came out and eleven now. Apparently, people asked them the lessons to glean from their other books, so he put out this slim volume. It weighs in at about 100 pages, the length of some of the lecture collections that I’ve been looking at recently (such as The Experience of Nothingness).

Each chapter takes a topic and looks at what the Durants have gleaned for it from their study of history. “History and Earth”, “Biology and History”, “Race and History” are pretty good musings on the natural world and what role they played in history, but when we get to chapters like “Character in History”, “Morals in History”, “Religion and History”, “Economics and History”, and “Socialism and History”, the Durants’ old left viewpoint comes out loud and clear. They list 1933 as a monumental year in history on par with World War I, World War II, and the like, but this is because it’s the inauguration of FDR. The Durants believe that the Soviet Union is a competing system, but not an enemy, and the United States should have told the USSR and China that we were their friends and would never do anything to hurt them. Also, Communist systems were moving towards freedom and the Western societies were moving toward socialism, so in the end we’d all be friends.

Welp, history is sort of trending that way, but the Durants missed a lot of how history after 1968 would work out. Of course, they were old Left, and the new Left that has arisen after turning over the old, tired institutions in academia, art, and entertainment went in a different direction (and one the Durants would have disapproved of in certain elements).

At any rate, after the first third of the book, I was eager to pick up the complete History of Civilization series, but by the end, I was wondering how colored the book would be by the Old Left sensibilities. On one hand, it’s not as invective as modern books, and it’s easy to read. We even agree on some things, such as the suckage of modern art and the perspective that all societies and civilizations eventually fall. But we differ on economic and cultural things as well as whether character and morals should be relative to time and place. There’s one thing to say that historically, moral norms were different, but I lack the intellectual detachment that allows one to say this is a good thing.

I’ll have to watch for the Durants’ The Story of Philosophy and The Pleasures of Philosophy to read before I take the plunge into the eleven volumes of their popular history series.

Good Album Hunting, October 15, 2016: Thrift Stores

On Tuesday, one of my children called from school to indicate that he was not feeling well. Whenever I pick up a child sick from school with a questionable ailment, I like to take him somewhere that he doesn’t like to go to celebrate the partial day off school: namely, thrift stores and antique malls.

Although his mother convinced the boy to gut out the day at school, we went to a couple of thrift stores after school to help cement the association in their minds.

I got a couple albums.

Gleanings include:

  • James Galway, Mozart: The Two Concertos
  • Perry Como, I Believe
  • Time/Life’s Great Men of Music boxed set for Prokofiev
  • Pete Fountain and the New Orleans All Stars
  • Pete Fountain’s New Orleans at Midnight
  • Pete Fountain, On Tour
  • The Four Freshmen, Got That Feelin’
  • Unforgettable Dinah Washington
  • Terry Gibbs and Bill Harris, Woodchopper’s Ball
  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Greatest Hits
  • Dave Brubeck Quartet, Angel Eyes
  • Maynerd Ferguson, New Vintage
  • A Taste of Honey

I haven’t even finished listening to the albums I got last month.

I need to spend some quality time in my parlor with my record player.

Also note the boy is feeling better, or at least covering it better.

Book Report: Beirut Payback by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverSometimes, when I finish a book and it’s time to pick out a new one to read, I already have something in mind to read next based on some recent event or thought, something I just finished reading, or something I just bought. Other times, too many times, I spend thirty or forty minutes going through my bookshelves to find something to read immediately. As I’m going through them, I often find books I want to read, just not right now. After this period of terrible indecision, it’s good that I have a series that I can just say, “Screw it, I’ll read the next Executioner novel.” At times, it’s a bit of a punt: It will take me two or three evenings to read it, and maybe then something will jump out at me.

Which is why I read this book (and so many of its predecessors and followers).

This book sees Bolan travelling to Beirut in the aftermath of the Marine barracks bombing. He’s on the hunt of a KGB bigwig, but he encounters a plan to assassinate the leader of the Lebanese government. So he navigates amongst Mossad, CIA, and KGB spies and militias of various stripes to prevent the assassination of the leader of the Lebanese government.

It kind of captures what a civil war looks like, with refugees, multiple sides, and urban warzones. Striking, because certain small elements of the American population seem to want a civil war, apparenrly thinking it might be something like a quick game of Call of Duty on the PlayStation that you’re sort of good at but you can turn it off after a couple hours. Civil war is not what’s depicted in the book, and it’s not a game. But this book serves as a bit of a reminder that it’s bloody.

Note the cover: In it, Mack Bolan carries a child while firing a gun. In this book, he does carry a young refugee through a long set piece of combat. I know it’s reinforcing the Sargeant Mercy bit, but, really? Also, as the series advances, I wonder if the authorship is passing from veterans to people who’ve never handled a firearm. They’re just that way: One bit sticks out where Mack Bolan is under fire (but not behind cover) where he holsters one weapon to draw another. What, did the book on how to write these books actually dictate how many times Bolan had to fire each gun? I’m only partly joking. Of course, the cover artist has no idea of the scale of firearms, either.

So it’s a book in the series, not one of the particularly better ones. Not one of the worse ones. In the end, it served the purpose of bridging the gap between other books I read, as I picked up something else quickly afterword to make sure I didn’t have to read two of these in a row. Just think, if I read two of these a month, I’ll complete my collection of them in a couple of years and could feasibly complete the entire series in a couple of decades.

A Couple Carafes Of Note

I know, I know, you’re saying, “Hey, man, you’ve got a Handicrafts category here, and you haven’t posted anything in over a year! What’s the deal? Are you not doing craft stuff any more?” Well, gentle reader, I know you’re not coming here for the copious book reports. Indeed, you must be seeking the crazy craft projects. Rest assured, although I spent most of the spring and summer painting the fence around my yard and look forward to completing that project in 2017, I have spent a little time this autumn doing stuff at my workbench to fill up that handicraft blog category.

The first things I did were a couple of coffee carafes into flower pots.

Continue reading “A Couple Carafes Of Note”

American Fracking Claims New Victims

Residents forced to flee huge ‘wall of water’ after earthquake causes major New Zealand river to break its banks – as ANOTHER huge tremor strikes

6.2-magnitude quake shakes northwestern Argentina

This is probably not caused by new petroleum extraction techniques. But in our memeified world of thinking, had they would be printed in text on a picture of devastation and passed around on social media as evidence for the dangers of fracking if they’d occurred in the United States.

The world and its processes, including climate, are very complicated, and mankind probably understands only a small portion of them (the good stuff from way back: The seasons change, you can grow grain in this soil, pomegranates in this region). But our “thinking” as it is communicated is losing its capacity to transmit complexity and uncertainty and, dare I say it, a bit of wonder that doesn’t fit into 140 characters or a glance as someone scrolls.

Book Report: The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull (1969, 1970)

Book coverMost of us have heard of the Peter Princple: That a person tends to get promoted to his or her level of incompetence. That is, in any heirarchy, any person who does his job well enough to get a promotion will eventually get promoted to a position above the person’s competency, where he or she will not be able to do the job. This book is the source of that idea and not only includes it, but also includes other related observations about organizations.

For example, it explains how people who get put into those positions cope with their placement in jobs they cannot do: often, they substitute some task within the function to focus on. More frequently, though, their efforts go not toward doing the work/serving the customer/making money, but more toward supporting the heirarchy.

When a heirarchy becomes too laden with people who cannot do their jobs effectively, the company folds or the government falls. You can forestall this with by shuffling incompetent people or creating new positions to fill with people who have not yet reached the level of their competency. You cannot fix the problem with computers, as computers merely do what they’re told, and you’ll eventually have incompetent people in charge of them.

You can avoid this yourself by avoiding a promotion when you’re happy with your job, but to avoid stigmatism for not being ambitious, it’s best to fake a certain amount of incompetence to avoid being offered a promotion. Even if you reach the peak of your profession, you might be tempted to move to another heirarchy where you might find your level of incompetence eventually.

How does this book compare to C. Northcote Parkinson’s Parkinson’s Law? The book actually addresses Parkinson and says he does not go far enough because work can not only expand to fit the time allotted to it, but beyond if the heirarchy is too stuffed with incompetent individuals to get the work done.

The book ends with a chapter on the Peter Principle on the scale of the human race and fits in with the Malthusian zeitgeist of the time, unfortunately, but it doesn’t detract too much from the preceding chapters.

It’s a humorous, tongue in cheek look at heirarchies and has some truths in it. It is so tongue in cheek that I wondered if it was all a put-on, but Dr. Peter actually exists and did study heirarchies with numerous other publications, so I guess he’s for realz. A good, fairly quick read and quite a best seller in its day: this book, one year after publication, is the eight mass market paperback printing after 13 other printings, and the book is still in print today. So somebody likes it.