Also, It Ain’t Your Corner Bar

I read this in the Wall Street Journal this weekend: A Skeptic Sidles Up to the Wine-Bar Boom:

WHY DO PEOPLE love wine bars so much? A single-beverage bar where the food is tiny and the tables smaller still is an arrangement whose appeal is a bit of a mystery to me. Yet I realize mine is a minority point of view, since the number of wine bars all over the world just keeps growing and growing.

When the wine-bar boom began about five years ago, I thought it was a trend that would eventually end. How big an audience could there be for establishments that specialized in small plates of cheese and wines by the ounce? I was sure that people would realize that a good glass was best savored by the bottle and not in a “flight.” (A “flight” is a cute wine-bar name for tiny glasses of wine with a big price.) But clearly my powers of prognostication are flawed, as Americans’ love of wine bars seems to be a long way from flaming out.

You know why else they’re booming? They’re not corner bars.

It reminded me of something I posted ten years ago about how West Milwaukee was starting to deny liquor licenses to less trendy watering holes:

West Milwaukee, the organic entity, has determined that the time of small entrepreneurs running their own taverns is over. Instead, it’s time for West Milwaukee to look like Springfield, Missouri, and Chesterfield, Missouri, and most of the other suburbs in most other towns. Bring on the Applebees!

Wine bars are novel and upscale, so cities can approve of them in a way they can’t approve of another bar where working men will drink beer.

Book Report: Hearst Castle by Taylor Coffman (1990)

Book coverWhen we went to San Francisco in May, there were two places I wanted to go: Yoshi’s jazz club and Hearst Castle. Of course, further investigation revealed that Hearst Castle is in San Simeon, which is half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. So I read this book this autumn instead.

For those of you who don’t know what Hearst Castle is (how can you live with yourselves?), it is a palace built by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s and 1930s. It is huge, it has many buildings (what modern newspapers call a compound if they don’t like the owner), and it has lavish architectural details, antiquities, and pretty much everything I dreamed about when I thought I’d earn fabulous amounts of wealth.

The book, written in partnership with the people who manage the current national park on the site, has a little bit of text about the life of Hearst but really focuses on the details of the construction of the buildings and his vision for it and how that changed over the years. Its text is very meticulous on this subject, and it straddles the boundary between a picture book and a historical treatise. Personally, I would have preferred more photos and a little less detail in the text, but your mileage may vary.

Unfortunately, it did not quench my desire to see this place in person.

You know, when faced with opulence of this nature, some people want to firebomb it and take it away from those who have it. Perhaps I was born in a different century, but I find this inspirational. Hearst came from a wealthier background, surely, but he built a publishing empire and earned the capital to build this place that he had half in mind to make a museum–which it is now, of course. Good on ‘im. Let the rich have theirs, and let us all have a system that allows us to get rich if we can.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Great West in Paintings by Fred Harman (1969)

Book coverThe name of the artist from this book probably isn’t on the tip of your tongue. It’s probably further from the tip of the your tongue than even Frederic Remington if you think of artists who painted the old West.

But you probably know something of Fred Harman’s work indirectly.

Fred Harman, before he took up painting seriously, was an illustrator and cartoonist who created the comic strip Bronc Peeler. Which did not get syndicated so well, but Harman moved back east and renamed it Red Ryder, and boy, howdy, it took off. The comic was carried in a pile of newspapers, and its popularity led to comic books, novels, dozens of movies, and a television show. It made its creator rich enough to retire to Arizona to paint.

Of course, in the next century, we only know the name because of the film A Christmas Story where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder licensed product.

At any rate, about the art: It’s vistas and broncos. Probably less adeptly administered than the images by Remington, but they’re okay. It ain’t my bag, baby, as far as art goes. One thing about this volume, though, is that Harman himself wrote the text about the images, so you get the voice of the artist instead of an academic, which makes the text a little less dry.

Worth a browse during a football game if you like picture books between plays.

Books mentioned in this review:

How Long Have I Lived In The Country? A Metric.

You know how long I have lived in the country these days? Well, long enough that the suburbs are encroaching upon me and I’m not liking it. But that does not truly measure the distance I’ve come in my nearly four (!) years at Nogglestead.

Instead, a truer yardstick is the evolution in my thought about the Gretchen Wilson song “Redneck Woman”.

When the song came out, I lived in St. Louis, and Gretchen Wilson is from Pocahantas, Illinois, which is close enough to St. Louis that the St. Louis area–not just the country and western radio stations–claims her as one of her own. So she got a lot of radio play when her first album came out in 2004.

I don’t know why it annoyed me. Maybe it reminded me too much of my semi-youth in the trailer park and down the gravel road in Jefferson County.

At any rate, fast forward nine years and four years’ worth of hearing the coyotes come out at night and go home in the morning, and when I’m bouncing my pickup truck down the rolling farm roads and when my country station of choice in the Springfield area has the song in heavy rotation, and I don’t change the station.

The fresh country air has changed me, maybe.

Also, Gretchen Wilson’s Wikipedia entry (WARNING: looking up Gretchen Wilson on Wikipedia puts you on some government watchlist or another, I suspect), her big break came when she was hired to sing twice nightly in a bar in Springfield, Missouri. Whoa. Man, I hope that comes up at trivia night.

Book Report: Curious Events in History by Michael Powell (2007)

Book coverI recognized the author’s name, and when I Noggled him, I remembered that I his other book that I read.

But this book is different; it does not take the snark summary view. Instead, it gives a couple hundred words on individual events such as The Murderer from the Mayflower, the First Kamikaze, H-Day in Sweden, the Man Who Walked Around the World, and more. It’s like a Damn Interesting collection. (Are those guys still around? It would seem so.)

At any rate, a much better read than The Lowbrow Guide to World History, and I’m envious. I almost wish I could gather the steam to put out a collection like this. Maybe I will sometime. I still have like 3 ISBN to fill.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Black Star Rising by Frederik Pohl (1985)

Book coverIn my grim tour of the recently deceased (starting with Elmore Leonard), of course I would pick up a book by Frederick Pohl since he passed away earlier this month. This book isn’t the first of Pohl’s work I’ve read, though. I’ve even reported on Man Plus eight years ago.

At any rate.

This book is set in the future about a hundred years. After a nuclear exchange has wiped most of the Soviet Union and the United States out, China and India have split what remains of the world. The former United States are now republics and collectives in the Chinese mold. One young man, denied the opportunity to study at the University, is a farm laborer until he finds a part of a murder victim in his rice paddy. This red herring puts him into contact with an attractive Han police inspector, and his testimony at the trial brings him into contact with a surgically schizophrenified professor at the University and in the know about the alien ship approaching Earth and asking to speak to the President of the United States. Faster than you can say “Jack Ryan,” the lad is the president for presentation sake and he’s on his way out into space to meet the visitors….

You know, I could go on, and I have when recounting it for my beautiful wife who thinks it sounds interesting enough that she might read it. And she doesn’t tend to science fiction.

It ends a bit abruptly, but it goes in such directions. It builds the world, and then things happen to shake that all up, and…. Well, it reminds me (again) how untethered (in a good way) science fiction from those years could be. Almost anything could happen. I haven’t read much contemporary sci fi, but I get the sense that it falls neatly into subgenres–Military sci-fi, urban fantasy, fantasy, and whatnot–that makes it less wonderful and imaginary.

Of course, I’ll drop back into my paperback suspense fiction, but once in a while, science fiction is good to make me just wonder.

Books mentioned in this review:

Political Persecution Yes, Political Prosecution No

No criminal charges for Obama protesters arrested in St. Charles for distracting I-70 drivers:

A pair of St. Charles County men won’t face criminal charges after their recent arrests during an anti-Obama protest on an Interstate 70 highway overpass.

. . . .

The men were arrested in August for failing to obey orders by Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers as the pair gathered above I-70 to protest the president.

Would they have been arrested if the signs had said, “Happy Birthday Mindy!”

Of course not.

But the goal was served, prosecution or not. They were removed from the bridge and prevented from sharing their message. And perhaps they’ll think better of peacefully assembling and speaking their minds in the future.

I’m Walking, I’m Falling

A bow hunter following a deer he wounded pushes through a bush and falls seven stories to his death:

A deer hunter walking in a wooded area in rural Pulaski County died Monday when he fell into a deep sinkhole, authorities say.

. . . .

The sinkhole was about the size of a car at ground level and was estimated to be approximately 65 to 70 feet deep.

. . . .

It is believed Powelson did not see the opening before falling into it because it was hidden behind tall foliage, and the light was poor, according to the sheriff’s department.

Well, I’m going to give up on hiking in the woods. Not that I’m a hiker. But I’m far less inclined now.

(Another sinkhole nightmare explains why I gave up on golf, another hobby I never had.)

Book Report: Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard (1996)

Book coverI’ve owned a couple of Elmore Leonard books for a while, but I hadn’t read one until now. Mr. Leonard’s recent passing prompted me to pick up this book.

I have seen the film, of course, because for some strange reason in the waning years of the twentieth century, I saw George Clooney movies. In the cinema. Huh. That was a weird time.

At any rate, it read pretty well, too. Of course, seeing the movie before reading the book means I had in my head the appearances of the main characters, so I’m not sure how well Leonard described them. The action is punchy, the situations different and amusing.

I have one or two more Elmore Leonard books scattered amongst my stacks. When I stumble across them, I’ll pick them up.

It’s neat to find an author new to me that I enjoy. I know, it’s not like I lacked indicators that Leonard’s books were good. But sometimes it takes a little push to get me to read something.

Books mentioned in this review:

Dear Internet

All right, so I work at home and don’t interact with people much. Which leads me to talking to the (suddenly six) cats around Nogglestead sometimes, which in this case is a euphemism for “all day long.”

And just moments ago, I accused one of the felines of being a part of the Cat-a-mine Conspiracy.

The cat did not get it. Most people won’t. But this is the Internet, and somebody might.

Book Report: The Intimidators by Donald Hamilton (1974)

Book coverI’ve already read one Matt Helm book this year (The Ambushers and another book by Donald Hamilton (Murder Twice Told), so I guess it’s not a change of pace at all that I picked up this book.

Within it, Matt Helm gets involved in solving the disappearance of several boaters in the Bermuda Triangle area. He’s under the thumb of a rich Texan whose fiance is among the missing and who pulls some strings in Washington to get an agent on it. Helm is also running ahead of some assassins who are targeting him and from a former associate and lover who wants him dead–and whose help he needs to unravel the conspiracy.

It’s an interesting bit of thriller, a bit slower than The Mordida Man, but there really is a bit of a cut over somewhere there in the 1970s where the paperbacks become more punchy.

I enjoyed it, and I think I’m about out of Matt Helm books. I’ll have to hope for some luck at the autumn book sales.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Mordida Man by Ross Thomas (1981)

Book coverIt’s been over a year since I read a Ross Thomas paperback (The Pork Choppers in November 2011), and I’ve been mostly reading paperbacks this year, so I picked up this book for a change-of-pace from my normal paperback haunts.

Unlike The Pork Choppers, this book is a straight ahead thriller. The plot stems around a secretive group that snatches the leader of a terrorist cell close to the ruling leader in Libya (a different colonel, as Khaddafy is overthrown in the near future of this 1981 novel). The Libyans think the CIA took him, so they snatch the president’s brother and hope to exchange the two; unfortunately, the terrorist died in the snatch, and it wasn’t the Americans. While the CIA muddles about trying to figure out who and where, a fixer summons the Mordida Man, a veteran and one-term Congressman known for getting important people out of the clutches of Mexican drug lords.

The book is fascinating: It’s a pretty good read, thirty-two years on, if you can relate to the olden days before cell phones and the Internet. It’s strange how undated elements of it are: the non-US vs. Soviet spymastering, for example, and that the bad guys are still bad guys 30 years later (contrast this for the extra suspension of disbelief you need for WWII thrillers: by the 1970s, our former enemies were our allies). There’s one bit of dated technology, though: the automatic garage door opener makes its appearance twice, including one where it’s sort of marvelled at.

But the book mixes up the good guys and the bad guys and has a third side playing against both that adds a dimension. Given the intra-side fighting, and you get an exciting read coupled with enough brutality that you realize that anyone is expendable in pursuit of the plot and the story.

Wikipedia says he was a well-respected thriller writer of his day, and I believe it.

Books mentioned in this review:

Where Did I Go Wrong?

So I write a post about my film watching habits of a week ago, and I include a link to Ace’s review of a reportedly execrable book about a Palin-led theocracy, and Ms K. buys it and reads it.

Meanwhile, and by “meanwhile,” I mean “sometime back,” I offered her a free copy of my novel, and I got no response. And a copy of it ended up in Indianapolis nearby anyway, and she prolly didn’t read it.

What have I done wrong?

Prolly not including enough spaceships and whatnot in ‘t.

Your Internet Conspiracy Theory of the Day

A story from Instapundit yesterday:

SO A FRIEND HAD A WEIRD EXPERIENCE LAST WEEK — her car was struck by lightning on the Interstate. All the electronics were fried, they managed to coast to the side of the road, and then they couldn’t get out because the door locks and windows were frozen.

A story from the television news yesterday:

A motorcyclist riding on Interstate 5 survived a lightning strike Thursday as a tumultuous day of weather saw thunderstorms and rain roll through Washington on both sides of the Cascade Mountains.

Is this a coincidence or is the government testing its lightning drones on American citizens?

I was going to embed a tweet here that was something like this:

“The government is listening to your phone calls, reading your emails, and cracking your encryption.” – a crazy person one year ago

But that tweet has disappeared. Or I can’t find it again. Which is the same thing. (Conspiracy theory style note: italics are important!)

Frankly, I’m only bringing this to your attention because it’s been a little dry around here lately, and my gardens could use the rain that would come with my lightning strike.

UPDATE: Edward Snowden just emailed me this NSA internal video:

Book Report: Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium by Mark Edward (2012)

Book coverI bought this book from a book review in the Wall Street Journal. So that review was pretty compelling, and it sounded like it would be a fun book. And so it was.

Mark Edward talks about his life and times as a psychic. Well, he thinks of himself more as a mentalist, a showman who might have some gift but who mostly entertains people and sometimes helps them with their problems as a sort of counselor and storyteller. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he knows the business is some level charlatan and yet he’s hopeful he is making something good of it. Of course, he would, being the author of the book and trying to present himself in the best light. It makes for a very complex narrative voice that really pulls one along.

And what a story he tells. Edward has worked for the Psychic Friends Hotline, has done radio, has done infomercials, has worked the party circuit, and has done private readings for a fee.

So he’s earnest, and he’s self-aggrandizing, but he doesn’t take the business or himself very seriously, so the book was a joy to read.

Books mentioned in this review: