Were I Ten, I’d Want It

Posted in Books on June 27th, 2011 by Brian

A library designed by Trout Studios that looks like it has a swing to hoist you up to the higher shelves, which extend up into the ceiling:


A swing/hoist library

You know what? I’m not ten years old, but I still think I kinda want one. Except it’s more of a modern look, and ultimately I prefer the old English kind of look with wood, a fireplace, and a bar.

(Link seen on Unhappy Hipsters.)

The Incandescent Rapture

Posted in Federal Government on June 26th, 2011 by Brian

Instapundit has spent some pixel inches recently covering the year-end ban on 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. Some of the things he links to, such as this Investors Business Daily piece, talk about people up in arms about it. However, the people who get linked by Instapundit and who pay attention year-round to the governments’ actions tend to remain a minority. I fear most people don’t know about what the government does in its omnipotentbus bills and their eventual effects years later.

Remember, the bill banning light bulbs was passed four years ago. Long enough for cause to be forgotten when effect rolls around. Did the Department of Energy send its armed SWAT units into stores to forcibly remove them from the shelves on the day the law went into effect? Of course not.

But at Instapundit’s reminder, I stopped by the light bulb aisle to pick some more up (remember, I am a noted stockpiler). Even as I was in the aisle, the store employees were completing a reset of the shelf space. Gone were the 24-packs of incandescent bulbs. Instead, the aisle was given over to a wider selection of LED and fluorescent bulbs.

And when the year-end arrives, the 100-watt bulbs will just be gone without fanfare or explanation. In coming years, the same will happen to the remainder of incandescent bulbs. Consumers not engaged in the political process will not know why; they just will not have the chance to buy them and will have to spend a couple bucks on a nice expensive toxic-waste-to-be glass corkscrew instead. Kind of like how all the old timey used children’s books with “Good vs. Bad” or “Building Things Is Good” style plots disappeared, leaving only the new timey “Love Those Who Are Different From You” and “Unspoiled Nature Is Better Than Any Human Activity” plots remain available.

The government acts, time passes, and the citizen’s choice just seems to evaporate years later with no clear reason why. Maybe, sometimes, a consumer will say, “Hey, I remember when I could get a 25 cent light bulb,” but that thought doesn’t necessarily translate into sustained political action.

So pardon me if I’m not sanguine on the prospects of a government reversal. The bureaucracy in charge does not want to lessen its control. The Democrats in the elected government don’t want to anger their activists. The Republican professionals might not want to take away a galvanizing issue that gets the dander of its voters up–after all, if Republican elected officials were to solve the problems they were elected to solve, why would Republican voters vote next election?

No, I guess I’m with Instapundit. Stock up while you can, if you can anymore.

(Cross-posted on 24th State.)

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! If you work in IT, check out my software quality assurance blog QA Hates You.

UPDATE 2: Thanks for the link, Ms. K.

Have a Haiku

Posted in Poetry on June 23rd, 2011 by Brian

Look, Ma, I’m still a poet!

Springfield Panera Bread BDU
Two-tone camouflage
shirt and shorts, completed by
inked patterns on arms.

 

Book Report: Can A Lawn Chair Really Fly? by Jess Gibson (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 22nd, 2011 by Brian

I bought this book not because I’m a big fan of self-help motivational books, but because I knew how the main conceits story ended, right about the book was publshed. Larry Walters attached some helium-filled weather balloons to a lawn chair because he wanted to fly. Armed with a pellet gun to shoot the balloons to control his altitude, some sand bags for ballast, and a six pack. He shot up to 18,000 feett and into the flight paths for LAX. After he finally came down and got tangled in some power wires, he told a reporter he did it because “You can’t just sit there.” A great conceit for a self-help motivational book.

In 1993, Larry Walters killed himself. A little less rousing premise.

So I opened the book to chuckle at the woe-begotten central conceit, and indeed some of the other examples in the book are dated and the end result of the stories ends up not being optimal for the participants. Aren’t I a sophisticated cosmpolitan pooh-pooher?

Jess Gibson was a businessman before his calling to serve the Lord, and it shows. The book is definitely a business kind of motivational book with some scriptures overlaid. I can’t say that it’s roused me out of this chair to do something–I’m busy writing book reports that upwards of a dozen people will read–but if you’re the kind of person influenced by this, maybe it will help you. Actually, I wonder about people who read a lot of these kinds of books. People who read self-help motivational books tend to read a lot of them, don’t they? Do they build up a tolerance, or do they just need a steady diet of motivation? Hey, if it works for them, I won’t knock it.

On a side note, although the author looks a little, uh, seasoned in the jacket photo, he’s still around. I just saw him on PBS promoting funding for public television. Good for him.

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: The Best of Clarence Day by Clarence Day (1948)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 21st, 2011 by Brian

When (if) you think of Clarence Day, you think of Life With Father. And with good reason. Not only was that middle-1930s reminiscience of growing up in the 1880s Manhattan a good bit of nostalgia that really caught on, including a Broadway play of the material, but it’s really about the only good thing Day wrote.

This volume includes: Life with Father, which collects a number of memoir essays that Day published throughout the Manhattan publishing world of the 1920s and 1930s; Life with Mother, a collection that tried to recapture the success of the earlier work, but was published by his widow and contains scraps and fragments and does not work because Mother was not the character that Father was; This Simian World, his first published book that muses upon civilization as a collection of apes, complete with wondering what civilization would be like if ruled by catmen or elephantmen; and a collection of drawings with short bits of doggerel below them.

I read Life with Father in 1999 or 2000, right after I got married. I was not yet 30, so I identified a lot with the narrator of the pieces, Day and his double-effect narrator self-appointed omniscience. Although I would not have applied those adjectives and adverbs then. He was the young guy, and Father was the old man stuck in his ways. Upon re-read, I identify more with Father, bellowing for his dinner or his way after working all day at the stock brokerage. The character of Father is seen through the eyes of a child, retold by that child as an adult. As such, Father is a bit of a cipher and a bit of a caricature. But he’s providing a damn good life for his wife, a lightweight deb of the postbellum world, and his four boys. Underneath the buffoonery of his wanting his own way and throwing what look like temper tantrums to get them, he’s a good man and the son knows he cannot emulate the father.

Aside from the father/son relationship, this book is great for the view of New York City in the 1880s. Gas lights. The installation of telephone replacing the bell you ring for a message boy. The horses and carts riding underneath the El to the farmland north of Central Park. Fascinating. I started reading this soon after I read The Virginian; in that book, the Virginian tells a tall tale that involves the New York restaurant Delmonicos sometime in the recent past. In Life with Father, Father takes the son to Delmonicos, probably right about the time the story from the western was set. Interesting confluence of my reading.

Life with Father, frankly, is the best of Clarence Day. The other things really aren’t worth much.

Interesting side note: This is a 1948 edition of the collection (I can’t imagine there were many more); the previous owner used a photocopy or reproduction of an industry article from 1948. The bookmark was in the early part of Life with Father, so the previous owner did not make it far into the book at all.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Dilettante Writer

Posted in Writing on June 20th, 2011 by Brian

You know, I wrote my first short story when I was in elementary school. Entitled “Willie the Great,” it told the story of a handicapped kid who learned magic and put on a show. I wrote it in my grandmother’s trailer on a visit to Missouri from Wisconsin. My talented cousin Jack was doodling on some scratch paper my grandmother had, and I needed to compete. So my first short story was composed on the back of some yellow heavy paper with a fancy letterhead on the front, and I got to read it to my grandmother, mother, and maybe an aunt or two.

I made my first submission in the eighth grade, a story about my dog written in the first person perspective, that I sent to McCall’s because 1.) my mother had a subscription and 2.) I saw they published a short story each issue. It was rejected–or ignored–but I submitted bad short stories throughout high school and college to myriad magazines. I was going to be a writer.

I did some time as a technical writer, cranked out a novel that’s not half bad, and have blogged more or less continuously for 8 years, but my ultimate output has really declined to a couple real essays or articles a year and a couple of stunted attempts at short stories–after writing fiction mostly through school, suddenly I find fiction hard. I’ve even had pretty good luck actually placing work with consumer magazines you could pick up on the news stand and in trade journals that don’t pay money. But now I’m at an age where I’m no longer eligible to be a young writer success story and am too ossified to dream myself in a Manhattan apartment mingling with other denizens of the slicks (and I’ve outgrown that dream anyway).

The realization came to me when I read this Cracked piece and the writer says:

There are some days that I write for 16 straight hours, knowing that everything I just typed will be deleted and replaced with a completely different idea, or rejected outright.

That, my friends, is a writer.

Me, I’m a dilettante, living the rest of my life and sometimes dabbling in wordcraft.

I need to determine if that’s what I want to be, or if I want to dedicate a little more time and energy to the real writer thing. Maybe apply some, I dunno, discipline to it and write for sure every day on something that’s not a 200 word or less blog piece. I’m coming to a point in my life where more time will be available. I just need to commit to using it.

A Wealth Unimagined

Posted in Life on June 19th, 2011 by Brian

Upon my counter, I have a wealth that emperors and kings from centuries and dynasties past (and some present) could not imagine:

A wealth unimagined.

I have apples from Washington, USA; I have oranges from Florida or California, USA; and I have bananas from Costa Rica. Fresh (relatively, since the apples are from last autumn’s harvest, but they’re not dried) delicacies from the far reaches of the continent, from over 3000 miles. Genghis Khan could not have unthinkingly stocked his larder like this. Not Caesar, not Victoria, not Montezuma, and most certainly not Peter the Great. They could not have put together this collection of delicacies even for the most sumptuous feast.

Yet I can do it for a couple hours’ worth of work at a minimum wage job that does not kill a measurable percentage of its participants. Because a civilization of specialized workers exist to plant, harvest, transport, store, and sell those goods to me as commodities. Although that civilization has existed for all of my life and for the preceding generation’s, it is not a natural phenomenon and it is highly dependent upon civilized people working to their own ends.

I hope this does not become a wealth only remembered.

Summer Is The Time For Reruns, I Guess

Posted in News on June 16th, 2011 by Brian

The only reason we ever hear about Coral Gables, Florida, is when they decide (again) to enforce their pick-up truck ban.

2011:

Starting this month, the city of Coral Gables will issue warning notices to owners of pickup trucks who do not park their trucks inside their garages at night.

Since the 1960s, the city has banned people from parking their pickup trucks in their driveways or on city streets from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Flashback to 2003 and one of my first blog posts:

In Coral Gables, Florida, you cannot park your pick-up truck on the street or in your driveway between 7 pm and 7 am lest you be mistaken for someone who actually has to work for a living. The city enacted the law in the 1970s to preserve its sense of uniquely fake Mediterranean decorum, to keep property values and tax assessments suitably elevated, or simply to thrash property rights whereever it can, and most of Coral Gables was fine with it until recently.

The pick-up owners have rebelled. Now that pick-ups have evolved from utilitarian cargo haulers to 250 XXL Buses-With-Lidless-Trunks-For-Beds, the pick-up owners think their trucks are no different than SUVs, so the SUVs should be banned from driveways and streets at night. And the powers that fill the city’s coffers with ticket revenue agreed. Dadgum, SUVs are trucks!

History repeats itself, but on a shorter time cycle than Nietzsche imagined.

(Link seen on Dustbury.)

A Home That Would Drive Me To Book Fairs

Posted in Books on June 16th, 2011 by Brian

Eat Ants sends me a link to this house composed entirely of bookshelves and asks if that’s my dream house.

Probably not; I like having more traditional looking bookshelves or a classical library instead of modern Japanese urban design.

The above Web site is the architect firm’s Web site, I think, so the pictures are of the bookshelves empty. I’d rather see pictures with them full of books to get the real flavor.

EPA Moves To Protect Rodents

Posted in Government Overreach on June 15th, 2011 by Brian

Won’t someone think of the cute little vermin? Sure, the Environmental Protection Agency will:

To better protect children, pets and wildlife, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it is moving to ban the sale to residential consumers of the most toxic rat and mouse poisons, as well as most loose bait and pellet products. The agency is also requiring that all newly registered rat and mouse poisons marketed to residential consumers be enclosed in bait stations that render the pesticide inaccessible to children and pets. Wildlife that consume bait or poisoned rodents will also be protected by EPA’s actions.

That’s what happens when you commission an agency acting on orders to protect an amorphous concept like environment with lessening consideration for protecting people, citizens, individual liberty, civilization, or a host of other concepts that make environmental protection much less agency possible at all.

Link via Tam K., who envisions:

Maybe we can do for bubonic plague what we did for malaria!

Book Report: Texas Storm by Don Pendleton (1974)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 15th, 2011 by Brian

This book finds Mack Bolan, the Executioner, winging into Texas to take on the Mafia there. In this particular book, Mack rescues a hostage, buys an old fighter jet to hit important men with mob connections in three cities in rapid succession, and destroys what might be an attempt to create a new petro-state out of the former Republic of Texas. The books are very similar in the series, but each has its own plot and twists, so they definitely keep fresh. Also, they’re books on can tear through to make quota.

Books mentioned in this review:

Perhaps I’m Unclear On The Concept Of “Door”

Posted in Life on June 15th, 2011 by Brian

A sign on the window to the tiny balcony at our hotel in Kansas City:


Here's your sign

Perhaps I’m a little unclear on the concept of door, but it seems to me that a door in use is closed since the function of a door is to partition space with a variable setting of partitioning space or allowing passage. To me, the “on” setting actively partitions the space, whereas the inactive or “off” setting, that is the setting that would exist if the door was not even there, allows passage.

Ergo, I would not think you could lock a door when it is not in use, since a door not in use is open.

Of course, it is possible I overthink things.

Book Report: Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (1972 ed.)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 13th, 2011 by Brian

This year, I decided to bone up on my geek bona fides and read some geek lore that I’d previously skipped. Although my beautiful wife read the trilogy ten years ago when the films came out (I said TEN YEARS AGO, granpa!), I didn’t. I also missed out in my youth in the middle eighties to read these in the formative years where they’d have had the most impact and I’d be a slavish fanboy. As it is, I am not.

You know the plot, surely, so I won’t bore you with going into it. Instead, I’d like to point out the book that The Fellowship of the Ring (yes, I know, Tolkien himself called it the Company more than the Fellowship, blah blah blah. I did catch that) most reminded me of was Kim by Rudyard Kipling. They both feature very lush descriptions of exotic locations populated with strange (to us) people, and both feature someone who is elevated to play a big role in The Great Game/The War of the Ring. Both feature Roads which cut through the wilderness. I don’t know if any serious scholar has seen it and written a dissertation on it, but you could definitely put a deep comparison through the works.

That said, Lord of the Rings might be a touch too lush for optimum enjoyment. Its very populous cast of characters makes it hard to relate to a single person within it as the reader’s proxy. The best you can do is Sam Gamgee. Even Frodo is a cipher, really. And you need that proxy when running through dozens of pages of elaborate history/description/meeting of the minds to get to the next brief bit of action–although by the beginning of The Two Towers, we get to more action, but by splitting the Fellowship into two or three parts and giving us complete books without Sam, it can still be a slog to read.

Also, note I did not read the appendices which account for something like 200 pages of the final book. Seriously, more of the lush background and description with none of the action and, ultimately, none of the relevance to the story at hand? Maybe, as I say, this would have been more relevant had I grown up a decade earlier or read these books in my younger, more time to kill days.

That being said, I do have the rest of the Tolkien canon, and I will get to it eventually, but not right away. This stuff is rich and deep and dense–more so than Kipling himself–and I need to tear through some books to make sure I make quota this year.

So it’s worth reading if you fancy yourself a geek, and it is a 20th century classic that will probably be studied and relevant in the future when so much is not. But steel yourself. This is not a comic book nor a 20th century American thriller.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Vintage Reading by Robert Kanigel (1998)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 12th, 2011 by Brian

I read this book before I read The Well-Stocked Bookcase, and I liked the genre enough so that I decided to read the latter, too, in addition to checking another book of the type from the library (returned unread, as the completion of this book and then the aforementioned The Well-Stocked Bookcase sort of put me off of them for a while).

This book stems from a newspaper column for the Baltimore Sun, where he read and wrote book reviews on classic literature. The early part of the book deals with actual dyed-in-the-wool classics, and as I read his book reviews on them, it really made me want to go on to read the books themselves. Then, the chapters wander into more contemporary nonfiction and into lesser books by noted authors, and suddenly it veered into that “my stamp on classics” territory.

Still, a good read, and you’ve probably recognize the titles of most. I won’t enumerate them here to clutter up your skimming. Suffice to say, I have most of the classics he mentioned and don’t remember any of the non-classics he talks about.

Books mentioned in this review:

Moving In Big Circles

Posted in Books on June 11th, 2011 by Brian

So I published a book, and suddenly my name is linked to Jerry Pournelle and suddenly Don Pendleton’s widow stops by to leave a comment.

Well, aren’t I all la-di-da.

Now, if I could only sell a couple books.

Why Do You Think I Need To Know This?

Posted in Rants on June 10th, 2011 by Brian

Whenever the northeast, that is, New York City and Washington, D.C., get severe weather, Weather.com puts a banner atop my local weather to give me this relevant and ultraimportant news:


This just in: This won't affect you

Seriously, this won’t affect me. I don’t care what trials and hardships those in the corridors of rule suffer. Temperatures near 100 degrees? Here in Missouri, we call that summer. Tornadoes? Here in Missouri, we call that spring.

It’s just OMG! to people who have not traveled outside of the northeast. Seriously.

Book Report: Jersey Guns by Don Pendleton (1974)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 9th, 2011 by Brian

This book marks Pendleton’s return to the series after the one-off Sicilian Slaughter by Jim Peterson. By comparison, it’s a better book. Also, it’s clear that the book was planned to be number 16 in the series, as it mentions 15 different campaigns and begins the same way as 16, with Bolan wounded and needing attention. Instead of going to a bad doctor in Manhattan, though, he’s taken in by a brother and sister on a New Jersey farm. Actually, since Bolan was unwounded at the end of Peterson’s book, they had to graft a wounding into the first chapter. But it’s pretty clear what happened in the real world. Also, the back has a bio and photo of Pendleton to show he does exist and does not (yet) represent a stable of writers.

Bolan has to recuperate in hiding while the mob searches the countryside for him. He does, but his benefacting farmers are captured by the mob, so Bolan has to conduct a rescue instead of just hitting and gitting.

Contrasting a bad Bolan book with a Pendleton Bolan book really puts the latter into stark relief. The books often begin with epitaphs from famous poets and philosophers followed with a Bolan quote to spin it; the books also feature cast-off allusions to classical literature that one finds in a lot of WWII veteran-aged pulp writers that you don’t really see in modern popular fiction. Telling.

Books mentioned in this review:

Department of Education SWAT Teams

Posted in Federal Government, Government Overreach on June 8th, 2011 by Brian

If those words aren’t enough to make you vote for smaller government, perhaps the full headline will. Dept. of Education breaks down Stockton man’s door [This headline and story have been removed]:

Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in the S.W.A.T for his [estranged] wife’s defaulted student loans.

The federal Department of Education should be abolished and have all its cowboys lay down their arms.

Somehow, though, being a Tea Party conservative makes me a fascist, but supporting a regime that kicks in doors for debts incurred pursuing useless -Studies degrees is humanitarian or something.

UPDATE: An updated story doesn’t reassure me much:

U.S. Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton confirmed for News10 Wednesday morning federal agents with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), not local S.W.A.T., served the search warrant. Hamilton would not say specifically why the raid took place except that it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Hamilton said the search was not related to student loans in default as reported in the local media.

OIG is a semi-independent branch of the education department that executes warrants for criminal offenses such as student aid fraud, embezzlement of federal aid and bribery, according to Hamilton. The agency serves 30 to 35 search warrants a year.

My point remains: The Department of Education has no point busting down doors with its own SWAT team for any reason.

UPDATE II: My update tracks with Tam’s.

Brian J. Recommends

Posted in Culture on June 7th, 2011 by Brian

Almost 20 years ago, I saw The Visit at the, uh, Milwaukee Repertory Theater when I was in college. What, you don’t believe me?

The Visit program from 1994

Sorry, I get confused sometimes. The PAC or whatever the heck they call it now down on Wells Street was a theater complex that had a number of plays running sometimes simultaneously. Was I at the Pabst? Was I at the Caberet? Which theatre was I at that night? I went to so many.

Damn you unbelievers! Even though I was a college senior at Marquette University, I was working 50 hours a week to pay tuition and to take women to the theatre. Why, my senior year of college, I saw The Norman Conquests, all three of them, with three different women. Actually, I saw Table Manners twice with two different women because I booked them incorrectly, as the Rep was rotating them nightly and I got my nights confused.

Damn you unbelievers! Even Marquette women would let me escort them to the theater (where many had never been) when I bought the ticket (with money I made between classes and extracurricular activities and invitations to the Rep by slinging produce for 50 or more hours a week as acting manager of the Produce section of a Shop Rite). Of them, only one was a freshman kind of impressed by the attention of a senior.

So you’ll excuse me a bit of triumph here if I can’t recollect exactly which of the women who thought I was good enough for a theatre ticket as friends with which I saw this piece performed lo, those years ago.

No, what is important is the comment I made to her as we walked out: “I hate fascism.”

Heavens to betsy lou! Was it Linda, the woman-girl with whom I’d exchanged notes in the Fall semester philosophy class and who, through some miscommunication, did not know my sorta interest until the Spring? After this play, we went to a bar, and she accused me several times of patronizing her until I said, “Well, it’s all over now, you might as well drive me home.” Could be.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, this play about Fascism and what it (metaphorically) entails is being put on by the Stray Dog Theatre in St. Louis this month.

If I still lived in the area, I’d be all on that like a stray dog on…. Well, you fill in the metaphor.

Book Report: Sicilian Slaughter by Jim Peterson (1973)

Posted in Book Report, Books on June 6th, 2011 by Brian

This book follows Panic in Philly, which I read way back in 2007. That book report contains the immortal lines:

Of all the series I’ve sampled this year, this is the least likely for a return visit; that’s not to say that it’s bad pulp, but it’s the worst of the pulp I’ve read this year.

Something changed by the time 2010 rolled around and I read Missouri Deathwatch and Arizona Ambush. Maybe I got better acquainted with pulp. But I changed my mind about the Executioner series.

But about this book: This book was not written by Don Pendleton; I read somewhere it was about a licensing dispute or something. So this take on Mack Bolan is more straightforward brutal than Pendleton’s philosphical (at times) hero. A couple of the set pieces involve Bolan killing people that I don’t think Pendleton’s Bolan would have, and in theatrical fashion with bad “numbers” (Bolan’s calculation of the odds, a recurring trope).

At any rate, wounded Bolan goes to NYC to get healed up after the Philadelphia adventure (and has to kill the doctor who helps him). He then decides to go to Italy to take out a training ground for mafia soldiers. He blows stuff up and whatnot. The end.

An relatively unsatisfying outing, but I guess Pendleton was refreshed after his brief hiatus, as the next novel (which I’m currently working on) is better.

Books mentioned in this review: