Good Book Hunting: March 15, 2008

Beware the Ides of March, indeed. Not only did we attend two very disappointing school-based rummage sales, but it’s also the annual Eliot Unitarian Chapel book fair. This little affair takes place in the library of a little church in the next suburb over, but its hardbacks are $3.00 and other books are also priced over what I tend to spend. Unfortunately, I had cash in the wallet, a mostly entertained toddler, and the pent-up urge to acquire. So I got a couple books.

Also, since I fancy myself a history writer now with my recent publication in a magazine of that genre, I was looking for idea books or reference material. So I bought some historical biographies that I normally would not have.

Ides of March book fair purchases

I got:

  • Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein in paperback because I fear my shelves are low on the Heinlein, high on the Greg Bear.
  • Roadside America, a collection of old highway and small town tourist trapica. An idea book.
  • The Explainer, another Slate compendium.
  • The Life of Emerson, a biography of that transcendentalist.
  • Son of the Wilderness, John Muir, another historical biography. I read something about Muir not too long ago in a history magazine. Also, I have been to Muir Woods and wear the hat while walking said toddler.
  • Catherine the Great. Because I don’t have many Russian history books, I guess. I don’t know. I was pretty profligate at picking things up at this point.
  • Back to Basics, a Reader’s Digest compendium of basic skills. Not the Foxfire series by any stretch, but will prove useful if civilization collapses. Or if I get into the Renaissance festival lifestyle, I suppose. I don’t know which chance is greater.
  • The Dark Ages, which also might be helpful if civilization collapses, but mostly this is an idea book.
  • Journey to Cubeville, a Dilbert book to remind me of what it was like when I was a straight.
  • The Great Works of Mankind, a rather seasoned picture book of great buildings and whatnot. Also an idea book.
  • Son in Law, a movie with Paulie Shore. Which I have already seen. Take that for what it’s worth.
  • The Eiger Sanction, a Clint Eastwood movie I have not seen. Still, it’s only a buck, less than the DVD I would probably have bought eventually.

You can see Heather’s single book to the right and the boy’s book, Piglet’s Night Light. One of the workers at the book fair played me by asking if the lad might like to look at a book while we browsed. She gave him this one, which he flipped through while we pushed him through the tables. As if I was going to take it away from him where we ended. As a side note, he’s pretty good with the older children books, but we’ve begun the transition from board books by letting him flip through magazines so he could get the feel of the lighter paper pages and learn not to rip them or fold them. Helpful tip if you’ve got kids or books, I suppose.

So we spent like $25 dollars today, and I got 10 new books. As long as I only go to a book fair once every 2 months and stay away from the long science fiction novels or historical biographies, I’ll keep even with my purchases. On the other hand, look what I’m purchasing.

What Dooley Wants You To Forget

When St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley removed the sales tax increase to support Metro, the local mass transit agency, from the upcoming election ballot, here’s the kind of shenanigans he wants you to forget before he tries again to convince you to pay more to support more such shenanigans:

As its lawsuit against a team of contractors dragged for years, the Metro transit agency saw its legal bills balloon — at times topping $1 million per month.

Among the bills Metro paid was a $624-a-night hotel room, and group dinners at high-end restaurants that topped $300.

The agency covered more than $30,000 in lodging expenses for one of its law firms, including two rooms at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Clayton that the firm used as a satellite office during the trial.

Agency leaders even paid out about $9,000 on a typo. That was the cost for a lawyer who billed for 76.9 hours of work — in one day.

The costs during the three-year legal battle soared to more than $21 million — shattering Metro’s own estimates of how much it would pay for the case. The Post-Dispatch reviewed many of the bills generated by the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, as you recall, was because Metro was shocked and embarrassed by how much cost overrun occurred on the recent extension of the light rail system. Funny, though, that Metro, with its seasoned professionals in mass transit and government teat-sucking, was astonished to discover the cost overruns whereas those of us who bash the government and its teat suckers were far less surprised that hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared into the ether.

That’s Not MSN

While looking up the lyrics for the song “Fred Bear” by Ted Nugent (referred to below), I saw something in the corner of my screen that I thought was a little….suspicious.

That's not really MSN
Click for full size

That little layer that pops up with the butterfly and offers you the opportunity to download ringtones based on the song you’re looking at has been crafted to look like a Windows / MSN Messenger alert, but it’s not; its target is, which is apparently some sleazy adware serving company.

You know, I’m duly suspicious of any ad that masks itself as a function of another program. Suitably so, in most cases.

The City Is Backsliding, Backsliding the City

How many “signs” of the city of St. Louis’s Renaissance can you dispel at once? Well, at least two.


A deal to bring Centene Corp.’s $250 million headquarters to downtown St. Louis is on shaky ground.


Centene’s development is supposed to be inside Ballpark Village, a seven-block entertainment and retail district that city leaders hope will be a cornerstone of downtown revitalization. It’s also uncertain when construction will begin on the $387 million first phase of Ballpark Village, co-developed by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Obviously, this will require a futile gesture on the part of the city, say a couple more million dollars of tax money, so the politicians and their unelected directorate of the expensive can protect their phoney baloney jobs. If you don’t mind my mixing pop culture references.

Blast from the Past

In the year 1984, Julie Brown releases an EP with a song on it entitled “The Homecoming Queen Has Got A Gun”. School shootings do not immediately spike.

Would that make you think that perhaps the popular culture influence nor the availability of guns makes these things happen, but more a certain laxity of moral standards that would manifest itself in another decade? Or perhaps the inclusion of these incidents as major signifiers in the sweeping narrative told by popular media?

I got nothing, but I recall I thought the song was funny at the time, but given how times have changed, not so much any more.

Book Report: The Forge of God by Greg Bear (1987)

I am such an easily led reader. The cool kids mention Heinlein, I read the Heinlein. Instapundit mentions Greg Bear, and I read one of the Greg Bear on my shelves. I think I bought both this book and its sequel, Anvil of Stars, from Downtown Books in Milwaukee some years ago because he has a lot of books, so if I liked the books, I could get a lot of books. Also, Ted Nugent sings about his brother, Fred Bear. So Instapundit mentioned the book, and it was like Pavlov ringing a bell.

That said, this book provided me with flashbacks of bad Niven, too present in my memory. The book covers an alien invasion whose first appearance is a couple of strange geological structures that appear out of nowhere. Then, a series of disconnected scientists hold a bunch of meetings and put together some papers about what might happen. Then, an alien appears that might or might not be a natural alien or just a biological construct. Then, pre-meetings, politickings, and a religious President who thinks the alien invasion–and probable destruction of the Earth–is punishment from God.

Seriously, the first 200 pages of this book are event, meetings, politicking, papers, hard science. The book cuts between disparate groups, some of whom I forget between their brief cut scenes. But the main characters are hard scientists, a science fiction writer, and politicians (sorry, national leaders). This is supposed to be hard science fiction, which I can take when it when the characters are good and the plot moves along. Unfortunately, with this book, I don’t really get into the characters, the plot drags, and ultimately the enemy who is destroying the Earth is so abstract that I can’t really get a mad-on. The author treats them like a force of nature. And there’s another group of aliens who are helping to save a few Earthlings–they cannot stop the inevitable destruction of the Earth. They, too, are unclear.

However, in the last 200 pages (slightly less), some of the good aliens possess–as in take over the wills of–some of the characters, and then the possessed characters work toward salvation of a small number in arks that will take them elsewhere. So that happens.

I guess that allows me to put a finger and pixels to another annoyance about the plot: The events happen to the characters. They don’t really influence the story, it just takes place and the people go along for the ride. Or die.

The book certainly bears a lot of influence from Lucifer’s Hammer; in the afterword or whatnot, the author thanks Niven himself. Sadly, it’s not as good as good Niven. It’s worst than bad Niven. Hard Science Bureaucracy Fiction.

Books mentioned in this review:

Mel Carnahan’s Daughter Says People Who Vote With Fake Names on Voter Rolls Already Have Fake Picture IDs

Mo. politicians clash over photo IDs:

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan tells congressional lawmakers that requiring photo IDs for voters won’t do much to stop voter fraud.

She says photo identification only helps in rare cases when someone tries to impersonate another voter.

The Democrat claims a photo ID requirement would do more harm by disenfranchising elderly and poor voters who lack proper ID cards.

Considering how many dead people and underage voters apparently vote in Missouri (story), Robin Carnahan seems to imply that the state of Missouri, in which she is supposed to be Secretary of State but instead seems to have the title of Democrat Party Mole, has already issued photo identification to that same set of the “population,” and that Mickey Mouse would only be caught when he tried to vote as George Washington.

Issuing photo IDs to the dead, to toddlers, and to people whose names match celebrities or cartoon character, I have to admit, seems to be a bigger problem than mere voter fraud.

Murphy Knows Kirkwood

Kevin Murphy reflects upon the Kirkwood shootings and sees beyond the handy racial template:

Kirkwood is suffering from a clash of aesthetics and has for a long time. All the big fights for the last 30 years (or more, I can only speak personally to 30 years) have all been over aesthetics. Usually its couched in terms of the effect on neighborhoods and property values but the majority of Kirkwood wants to keep the city a place of high end residential properties (nothing wrong with that) and if that limits what you do with your property, so be it. And that’s when the fighting begins – when you do something with your property that goes against the Kirkwood aesthetic. Tear down an old house to put up a new house – fine if the old house is one of the many old small ones and the new one fits in with the look and feel of Kirkwood. Tear down a charmer to put up a McMansion – Kirkwood explodes in red yard signs “Protect Historic Kirkwood”. Tear down a house to put in a parking lot – don’t even think about it Baptists.

Meachem Park has been thoroughly reconstructed since it’s annexation from Kirkwood. Law and order, and all that that entails, has been provided. And if the order that is imposed doesn’t conform to the locals desires, it does to the wider Kirkwood aesthetic. And no amount of jawboning about race, no amount of representation on the city council will change that.

Yes, but the handy racial template will keep the power-accumulating and power-abusing government officials from having to reflect on what they do that might make someone lash out violently. So they can go on, after the bread and circuses of racial harmony, stepping on the individual citizens.

The Antithesis of Sharing

Someone gave my son a book, a book that that particular someone thought might have been a nice story about sharing or merely about fish. If that someone had cracked the cover of the book and had perused the book at all, I’d have to assume that someone wanted to co-opt my son into a world where all the altruistic bogeymen of Ayn Rand fiction are true. That book is The Rainbow Fish, and its author’s name might as well be Marx Pfister.

The Rainbow Fish cover

You see, the Rainbow Fish has colorful, reflective scales made of foil embedded within the sheets of the book. That differentiates the Rainbow Fish from the other fish in this fictive undersea world, too, making it more beautiful and, according to the value system espoused by the book, better somehow as the other fish value and covet those scales for themselves. Are they the villians? Of course not. The fish endowed by its creator is the villain because it recognizes the value in its scales and is unrepentant for having them:

The other fish demand the Rainbow Fish give them its beauty

Okay, perhaps the Rainbow Fish is a bit impetuous. Perhaps a bit of a, erm, jerk. However, note the fish’s demand: Give me one of your scales. Part of your actual body that I find attractive. In the real world, if you ask a woman with pretty hair for a lock to keep and wear, she’ll pepper spray you, get a restraining order, and you’re the one ostracised, or so I have heard. In the Rainbow Fish universe, if you refuse, you are ostracised.

Brothers and sisters, I know something of sharing. Sharing occurs when someone with something says, “Hey, I have something, and someone has less or nothing. I shall give that person some of my something.” Instances that begin with someone having something and someone else demanding it are called “Robbery.” This book, then, seriously tries to inculcate urchins with the worst ad absurdums of Rand’s villainous thoughts: altruism, to give of yourself because other want you to give it up or because self-denial is a value. I mean, even Marx said From each according to his ability, which implied that ritual self-dismemberment or self-flaying was not required.

Unfortunately, the Rainbow Fish is weak and consults with a many-tentacled consultant who then tells him that he needs to give in, compromise, and everyone will love him. So the Rainbow Fish does:

The happiest comrade in the commune

Now that they’re all equal in the ugly, asymmetrical single shiny scale, everyone loves him. Or at least Diana Moon Glampers would be. You see, in the Rainbow Fish undersea soviet, people love you for what you give them, not for what you are. And what you give them is the power to demean and diminish you for their own benefit.

Call it whatever you want, but it’s not a lesson in sharing. It’s a lesson in self-destruction for the pleasure of the masses.

You know, when the boy brings me this book to read to him, he gets a different story than the words tell him, and by the time he can read himself, Daddy might lose this book. Because, jeez, this is not what I want to teach my son, and it’s not what I want him to absorb from professionals because I’m not paying attention.

Sort of related thoughts from Rachel Lucas here, but she’s not a breeder like me, so it’s all theoretical on her part.

Book Report: John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy by William Caferro (2006)

I got this book through an intra-library loan because I thought I could squeeze an article out of John Hawkwood based on a sidebar I saw in Renaissance magazine. If you are like I was, unaware of who Sir John Hawkwood was, I’ll explain a bit. Sir John Hawkwood was a mercenary operating in 14th century Italy. A veteran of the Hundred Years War, Hawkwood came to Italy, played all sides against the middle, and became one of the most profitable and well-known mercenary leaders of his day. He spent the last years of his career with Florence, and the city eventually immortalized him with a frescoe over his tomb.

That being said, the book is a very detailed timeline of Hawkwood’s life and adventures, from his arrival in Italy to his participation in numerous “Free Companies” (unemployed bands of mercenaries pillaging the land) to his various employments with Pisa, Milan, the Papal States, the Kingdom of Naples, and Florence (employed bands of mercenaries pillaging the land). Over the course of the latter three decades, Hawkwood became a known and feared figure amongst the city-states of the early Renaissance. For example, Hawkwood made a trip through Tuscany with a free company wherein he systematically visited the environs of each city state in the region and demanded payment to move on. Most of these payments came as lump sums, but often they had additional payments so you could put the sparing of your crops on credit. By the end of the year, Hawkwood had earned more on his trip than most city-states made annually, and to this day, you can still go into an Olive Garden and order the special Hawkwood Tour of Italy, wherein the restaurant will feed your entire party, will give you 10,000 florins, will put you on the payroll for the rest of the year, will gas your car, and will give you the directions to the nearest Pasta House and hope you go there.

John Hawkwood was so well known and feared that the things we pass around on the Internet as Chuck Norris lists originated as John Hawkwood lists in Renaissance Italy. For example, a Florentine banker carried the following items to the Holy Roman Empire:

  • John Hawkwood invented the color Burnt Sienna. Poor Sienna.
  • All the towers in Pisa were straight until John Hawkwood glared at one as a warning.
  • The Italian penninsula was shaped like a pair of boots until the arrival of John Hawkwood.

Hawkwood became a fixture in English fiction (and some in Italy, too) in the centuries after his death, and this book tries to get to the bottom of the myths built by the fabulists by using actual historical sources. Unfortunately, that means the book lacks a certain amount of narrative or insight into Hawkwood himself, as all we get are really lists of dates, movements, and rosters. Still, it’s enough to stand in awe at a man who traveled to Italy and grew wealthy through shrewd contracts, ruthlessness, and the occasional battle.

This book, from 2006, must have been a vanguard, as I see a couple more books are coming out this year about Hawkwood. Ultimately, I guess it stands as a testament to the impact of the man and his uniqueness in his time that he fascinates people centuries later.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Comparison Brett Favre Could Have Done Without

Uno the beagle retires from the show ring:

He was one of the greats in his sport, an underdog who was bred in Belleville and lived in a small Southern town who became a most popular champion. He thrilled fans by running around like a playful pup, until there was nothing left to prove. Last week, he bowed out.

So long, Uno the beagle.

Less than a month after winning best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club, his team made it official: America’s top dog has retired.

“If anyone could bark out signals like Brett Favre, it’s Uno,” David Frei, host of the Westminster television coverage, said Friday. “Like Brett, he did it all.”

Post-Dispatch Finds a Rezko Angle It Likes

Not that he has ties to Obama; that Republicans may be involved: Corruption May Prove Bipartsan in Illinois:

Illinois businessman Stuart Levine, an associate of Republican former Gov. George Ryan, had dinner one evening in 2004 with fellow businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko — an associate of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich — at the Standard Club, a ritzy members-only hotel near Chicago’s downtown financial district.

Meanwhile, the Post-Dispatch continues to endorse the consolidation of power into political hands that makes this sort of corruption possible.

Faulty Random Number Generator

Hidden in this story, which has a positive result of finding a fugitive murder, we have this disingenuous nugget:

On Sunday, a police officer in Eureka, Mo., was randomly running license plates in a Days Inn Motel parking lot when the officer came across Newman’s vehicle.

Mmm-hmm. Somehow, I think the fact that this officer was in the parking lot of a motel running the plates diminishes the “randomness” of it, and I would question his sample size–I suspect it was less random than thorough in the selection of plates to run.

Otherwise, it sounds a little totalitarian, does it not? Stay in Eureka, and the police will know who you are.

Making Britain Satire-Proof

You know how some of us like to make a little ad absurdum fun about the nanny state bubble-wrapping everything for the safety of its citizens adult children?

Britain is removing satire from our repertoire:

Britain’s first ‘Safe Text’ street has been created complete with padded lampposts to protect millions of mobile phone users from getting hurt in street accidents while walking and texting.

Around one in ten careless Brits has suffered a “walk ‘n text” street injury in the past year through collisions with lampposts, bins and other pedestrians.

There’s a picture at the link.

History repeats itself, the first time as satire, and the second time as just good sense according to British government officials.

Coming soon: buddy bumpers to keep you out of the street.

(Link seen on Outside the Beltway.)

America Works Best When We Say Unions, Make Our Military Decisions For Us

Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a winning slogan, but the Boeing machinist union wants to overturn the decision making apparatus of the United States Air Force:

Furious over the potential loss of tens of thousands of American aerospace jobs, a major union representing Boeing Co. workers intends to press Congress to overturn the military’s awarding of a tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and its European partner, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Before you let those fellows go all American Pie on you, don’t forget they like to strike at inopportune times.

Be hell of a thing if our Air Force planes couldn’t reach their targets because the Air Force had tankers on back order because machinist strikes pushed their delivery dates, ainna? Guess that’s not going to happen unless our elected betters in Congress will it.