Book Report: Strange But True: Mysterious and Bizarre People by Thomas Slemen (1998)

I hoped the book would be a good idea book for historical essays. However, the “But True” part was overstated. Maybe it would be a good book for fiction, particularly science fiction and fantasy, ideas instead.

I guess I should have guessed by page 43, in a piece about Springheeled Jack, where the sentence “But one theory that does fit the facts is the alien hypothesis.” appears. Prior to that, we’ve got some interesting historical anecdotes which might provide fodder for historical research and some “Hmmmmm” essays, but this piece on the English folklore tips the author’s hand: he’s ready to accept the Fortean and the Fate magazinean as “true”.

Well, that’s not what I was looking for in this book. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve read many of the anthologies of the mysteries of the unexplained (Reader’s Digest, of course), but I was hoping for something more, um, proveable from this book. Not (from p311-312, in the chapter “The Green Children” which doesn’t provide much more data than the Reader’s Digest book and lacks the black and white reimaginative photo) “The only credible explanations seem to point to extraterrestrial life or a parallel world.” Not (from p370, the chapter “Doppelgangers”, which comes after the chapter “Vampires” and the chapter about the intelligent life on the moon) “Until scientists can open their minds to the reality of the doppelganger, societies will continue to live in fear of this phenomenon.”

Some of the things prove interesting food for thought and speculation (Was Edgar Allan Poe a murderer? Who was Prester John? What about that song by Reszo Seress?), but ultimately I was a tad disappointed that the material skewed speculative fiction instead of speculative historical fact.

I don’t know how much more I can explain that. I did, however, read the book. Whether fiction comes of it or not remains to be seen.

Books mentioned in this review:


Too Far Along The Line For What’s Right

The new Missouri license plates contain a grammatical error. Who cares? Well, some of us, but not the officials in charge.

The problem?

The plate, featuring a bluebird perched on a hawthorn branch, was the landslide winner of an Internet vote last year among three plate designs. During the competition, the words “Show Me State” ran vertically along the right side of the plate. Vertically, there was no graceful spot for the hyphen.

Later, the state found that the vertical placement caused production problems, so the slogan was moved to a horizontal position near the top of the plate.

Because the words “show” and “me” form a compound modifier for the word “state,” they should be joined by a hyphen.

Official response:

David Griffith, spokesman at the Missouri Department of Revenue, said the state doesn’t consider the lack of punctuation a fatal flaw and won’t be replacing the plates. “We’re too far down the line,” he said.

Makes me glad my children won’t participate in an educational system run by a government where mistakes too far down the line won’t be corrected.

A Ballot Initiative Robin Carnahan Will Approve

Compulsion for corporations? Sign her up!

Missouri residents could get the chance to force some of the state’s biggest utilities to sell more renewable energy.

A group called Renew Missouri is trying to collect 150,000 signatures to get a November ballot initiative that would ask voters to decide whether the state should have a mandatory renewable energy standard.

Hey, we can force utilities to enact policies to make electricity more expensive! What’s not to like?

Don’t we have a legislature to handle these things?

Since 2000, legislative attempts to establish mandatory renewable energy standards have faced utility opposition and failed.

That’s a nice sentence, Brody. I notice you’ve stopped stuttering.

It would appear that reality diverges from this journalist’s wildest yearnings:

Last year, however, Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law the Green Power Initiative, which creates a goal of 4 percent renewable energy use in 2012 and 11 percent by 2020.

Several utilities also offer their customers the chance to buy renewable energy. For example, AmerenUE sells renewable energy through its Pure Power program, which was rolled out last year.

But let’s cut to the compulsion, shall we?

But supporters of a ballot initiative say voluntary goals and programs are not enough.

It never is. Not until the ruled live in hovels and are no longer a threat to their betters, who are the animals who will be more equal (that is, not subject to rolling brownouts) than others.

Good Book Hunting: April 19, 2008

After yesterday’s book fairs, today we stuck to yard sales around Old Trees. It was a grey, rainy day, so many of the yard sales in the paper were rolled up before we arrived. Others had wet stock, which sucks for books. However, one in the area had an indoor room with books going at 2 bags for $1. It was an enclosed porch, not laid out for good book browsing, and one fat guy spent twenty minutes in the middle of the spread blocking everyone else’s access while he filled two dry cleaner sized bags so he could get just the books he wanted for only $1. One other fellow had his bag break while he waited, so he stomped out in disgust.

We waited patiently, though, even dissuading the toddler from taking a piece of trim with exposed nails to the prominent, semi-bared backside of the fat man. We managed patience, though, for a handful of books we stuffed into a bag. They charged us a whole dollar for it, too, but we just wanted to get out of the sale without inflicting casualties.

Sometimes, an experience like that sets a poor tone for the day, and this seemed to prove true today. Not a lot of fun to be had, but some books to acquire. These:

Rainy yard sale day results
Click for full size

  • Three Nights in August, a recent book about the St. Louis Cardinals. Did I mention I’m watching baseball this year?
  • Inventing for Fun and Profit. Hey, I have a couple ideas I might want to patent one of these days. Why not get inspired?
  • The Mousetrap and Other Plays by Agatha Christie.
  • The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. Sure, I already have it, but I’m programmed to buy Chandlers that I find in the wild. Plus, I haven’t read it for maybe almost a decade now. I should read it again.
  • A collection of mysteries. I bought it because it was a Walter J. Black edition. I’m pathetic.
  • Modern Electronics. Given the typeface, perhaps I can use it to learn about TRS 80s and calculators powered by nine volt batteries.
  • Making Decisions Ethically. I’ve tried everything else. Maybe this methodology will lead to wealth and fame.
  • Mysteries of Mankind; since it’s a National Geographic book, maybe it will be a more serious idea book than a Reader’s Digest book with a similar name.
  • Cabinetmaking, an honest-to-goodness textbook about making cabinets. Because I was thinking of making one for my bathroom. I’ll probably only put in shelves, but in case I get really serious, I have this.

Additionally, I bought a Dwight Yoakum CD and an Andrews Sisters audiocassette. The boy and the wife got a couple things, too, but I retain my title of champion accumulator.

Total books acquired: 9. Total spent: Under $10.

Good Book Hunting: April 18, 2008

Uh oh, it’s the annual Kirkwood Friends of the Library Book Fair. I hit the Automated Teller Machine Machine, entered my Personal Identification Number Number, and got out a pile of money, and oddly enough, it was just enough:

Kirkwood Book Fair 2008 results
Click for full size

That’s $85 in books and $8 in audiocassettes; I bought most of the books, and my beautiful wife bought most of the cassettes, although our son apparently picked up two cassettes of his own while mommy was browsing and we bought them instead of wasting the time to put them back.

I got:

  • A handout from a program in 1984 where local citizens put on a walking tour of their homes on a street that the county wanted to widen. 24 years later, the road is still only two lanes, but the county is chomping at the bit still to improve it. Recently, stop lights appeared on a cross street and last year, paint markings appeared showing where the current right of way extends so they can chop turn lanes out of people’s yards. Remember, when you fight city hall, you’re only fighting a holding action. Bureaugnarok is still coming.
  • Democracy in America by de Tocqueville. Because I want to read about what that was.
  • A couple of literary magazines from the late 1970s with Lyn Lifshin poetry in them. Because my wife collects them, so must I.
  • An autobiography of Bob Gibson, because I’m watching a lot of baseball this year. And because they lowered the mound because of him.
  • A book by the recently deceased Clarissa Start, a resident of this municipality for a while and the author of its official history and a former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This will be the third book of hers I’ve read and the second I own.
  • St. Louis 365, a trivia bit about St. Louis.
  • Inter Ice Age 4, a science fiction bit. A collection, I think.
  • Myst: The Book of Ti’ana, because I’m suddenly into books from video games, I think (see below). The pages are special paper with a background design in them. I think that will annoy me when I start reading it.
  • Cell, the latest novel from Stephen King.
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. Completes my collection. For some reason, I left behind the hardback copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey. What kind of collector am I?
  • Lipstick Jungle by the woman who wrote Sex and the City. To get in touch with my feminine and kinda slutty side.
  • Lovelock, an Orson Scott Card title. Because the other bloggers say he’s good, I’ve accumulated a couple. However, I haven’t delved into one yet because some bloggers encourage you to read Greg Bear, too.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents a Month of Mystery because sometimes these collections hit the spot.
  • The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. Earlier this year, I picked up a book club edition of this title; this is a fourth printing (not book club). I’m getting closer to the first printing, werd.
  • Children of the End by Orson Scott Card. See above.
  • Why Orwell Matters. I would have bought it on the title alone, but it’s Christopher Hitchens. Back in the last decade, I read No One Left To Lie To and I think it was okay, but this decade and the Internet have been good to him and my appreciation of him.
  • Burnt Sienna by David Morrell. Bloody heck, aren’t two books (First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II) enough from this author this year? Maybe not.
  • The Dark Tower V-VII by Stephen King. I read the first three when they came out. I guess I’ll have to pick up IV somewhere and probably re-read the first three if I’m to make a real run of it. However, I don’t think I really liked how III went, but it’s been a long time.
  • Titan AE; I thought the book Forge of God reminded me of the trailer for the movie. I’ll have to see how the book compares to the trailer, since I’ve not seen the movie. I’ll probably like it better than Forge of God regardless.
  • Cyrus the Great, a mass market paperback history of Cyrus of Persia. It might make me a better Civ IV player.
  • The Age of Reason, a novel by Sartre. The book fair also had a copy of Nausea; the former is hard enough to find, and I’d never seen the former. But I own it now! It should brighten a day for me.
  • Why Things Are by Joel A. I used to read his bits on WashingtonPost.com.
  • A Catskill Eagle by Robert B. Parker. A first printing; I’ll have to see what my existing printing is.
  • The Mahdi by A.J. Quinnell. I own Man on Fire (because it’s the novel upon which a movie is based, natch). In case I like it, I now own another book by the author. As you can see, at the Kirkwood Book Fair, it doesn’t take much of a rationalization for me to buy a book.
  • The Case for Mars, a book arguing for space exploration and colonization. What’s not to like about that?
  • One More Time, another collection by Mike Royko.
  • Love, Poverty, and War, another Hitchens title that promises to cover three of my favorite things. Hopefully, there’s a sequel about guns, famine, and software quality assurance.
  • Pearl by Tabitha King. I don’t remember seeing a book by Mrs. King before.
  • Nobody Safe by Richard Steinberg. The title looked cool, the inside of the flap looked cool. How rarely I buy books based simply on that.
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens in the Reader’s Digest edition (unabridged). Whereas if you order it from Reader’s Digest, it’s $30 by the time it’s all said and done. Here at the Kirkwood Book Fair, random pricing for these editions was in effect. This book was $4.50 (probably because it’s so thick) and the other titles in the series were $2-3.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving in Reader’s Digest edition.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens in the Reader’s Digest edition.
  • Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Reader’s Digest edition.

Whew, that’s quite a bit. Fortunately, our circumstances allowed us to go on a Friday. We spent a bit more than an hour before our toddler alarm went off, but that’s about as many books as I could carry anyhow.

Fortunately, though, there was a smaller book fair that evening at church, so I got a chance to spend the last of the hundred bucks I’d gotten at the ATM machine after entering my PIN number and whatnot. A smaller haul, to be sure:

Friday night results
Click for full size

I got:

  • Rebel Moon, another science fiction novel based on a video game.
  • Barbarians at the Gate about the takeover of RJR Nabisco in 1988.
  • Family Rooms, Dens, & Studios, a Sunset book. I think I might already have this one, actually, but its list price was fifty cents, so I had to get it just in case.

The boys made out like bandits, though.

Fortunately, the ATM machine was still there on Saturday morning for our weekend (proper) book hunting.

Total books acquired: 37 (and 2 literary magazines). Total spent (for family): $103.

Even more fortunately, these dangerous book fairs only come once a year, and only 3 or 4 are that tempting.

Book Report: Case of the Horrified Heirs by Erle Stanley Gardner (1964)

This is a short Perry Mason book (171 pages, but the short chapters make it seem like less). When a woman is framed for carrying narcotics, Perry Mason proves her innocence, but it turns out that the charge was part of a greater plot to discredit her as a witness for a will of a wealthy woman. When the wealthy woman’s recent bouts of stomach illness prove to be arsenic exposure, Mason semi-investigates but has to find out the real story when his client is charged with her murder.

It’s a Perry Mason novel. Quick, pulpy, and not dated much. I cannot get enough of them, and someday I hope to own the complete set in Walter Black editions.

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: The Running Man by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachmann) (1982)

I have the movie tie-in edition for this book, so it has Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover and movie photos inside. The novel, however, is not the movie. As I do a number of these books upon which movies were based, I’m discovering vast differences in the books, and at least between this one and First Blood, I’m ultimately disappointed in the book.

In this book, Richards is married and has a kid and he goes to the network to participate in the Running Man game show to get some money to support them. Instead of a confined area with comic book villains, the contestant tries to hide out in the open United States with law enforcement trying to find him and citizens looking for him for bonus money. I don’t think that would have been good movie material, so I can see why the movie changed it a bit.

Still, I enjoyed it a bit until we came to a sudden absurdity and the final climax which was ultimately dissatisfying. We end up with the offer from the movie, where Richards can be one of the network people, but ultimately he exacts suicidal revenge upon the network.

It’s definitely not a Stephen King book, so you should expect a different writing style. It’s not bad for a pulp paperback, but a little unsatisfying, as I mentioned. I liked the movie better. Of course, I was kind of hot for Maria Conchita Alonso, so that last goes without saying.

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: Man O’ War by William Shatner (1996)

Well, this book certainly wasn’t steeped in the hard science fiction that is hard to read, nor the bureacratic science caper that would thrill readers of Bob Woodward’s books about the presidencies, although it does feint in this direction by making the main character an ambassador and a diplomatic negotiator who’s made governor of Mars in a tough spot. After establishing the colonies off world, Earth has become dependent upon them for food and for resources. A strike and violence threaten that, so as punishment for siding against a career politician in adjucating a corpor/national plot to annex part of Australia, the negotiator finds himself sent to Mars not only to solve the problem, but to find out who wants him dead enough to invade his home and kill some of his employees and his dog.

It could have been boring, I suppose, but it’s space opera. The bureaucrat picks up a gun and investigates, gets into scrapes on the fourth planet, and ultimately comes to a successful resolution. The ending is very abrupt, though, and it’s clear that either Shat or his ghostwriter had watched Total Recall, but it’s a fun enough book with semi-Libertarian demirants against The Man.

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: The Dead Zone by Stephen King (1979)

Well, that’s interesting. Given how this book ends, they must have done a Morrell on the story to get a whole television series out of it.

If you’re not aware of the plot, it involves a psychic from Maine and a politician from New Hampshire who might become President with disastrous results. Actually, it’s more of a character study of the psychic from Maine who awakens from a coma with the ability to recognize the future and the present and the past from a touch of a person or an object. He solves a serial killer case and then encounters the politician, but given that the main story bit comes late into the book, the ending ultimately seems a little rushed and the story goes from the first person limited omniscient narrator to a series of letters and then back to action. That cheapens it a bit.

The book runs only 350 or so pages, which is very short compared to King’s later work. Later works which sometimes seem to drag, but are not often rushed.

The book also contains a number of noteworth allusions: One to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct stories, where Cotton Hawes has his white streak of hair from a knifing; one to the novel Carrie, written by King himself; and unfortunately, one to the Dirty Harry movies, but Harry’s gun is misidentified as a .357 Magnum. Very contemporaneous to the time in which the book appeared.

A pretty good book in King’s line.

Books mentioned in this review:


The Navy’s Maid Service

A local Navy serviceperson dies, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is happy to run with the mother’s belief that the Navy caused her death through negligence. The conspiracy theory is a bit stunning in its details, including the charge that the servicewoman was ordered to clean up a bathroom instead of leaving it for the military’s maid service:

Her daughter returned to find sewage backed up in her bathroom at her barracks. The barracks chief provided the sailor and her roommate rubber gloves, scrub brushes and detergent and ordered them to clean it up.

Both became ill, but the roommate recovered.

. . .

“Whoever told those girls to clean up that bathroom, they have other people to clean those things up,” she said.

The woman’s death is sad, the grieving understandable. However, thinking the military is negligent for having a servicewoman clean a restroom (raw sewage? You mean the toilets backed up? Heaven forfend someone less than a hazmat team tackle that!) and agitating (for a settlement? An apology from George W. Bush? A chance to be the Cindy Sheehan of sewage?) is not understandable nor does it elicit sympathies of any but a few with an existent anti-military doctrinaires.

Like the editorial staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who runs these questioning stories relatively regularly.

Man Hits Tree With Car; Two Women’s Cars Hit Trees with Women Inside

Check out this reportage of three accidents in Missouri in the last day:

The man is active voice and is responsible for his accident:

Just after it started raining Wednesday evening, Jeremy D. Evans, 34, of Imperial, ran his 1986 Ford F150 pickup truck into a tree.

The first woman, though, was just unfortunate that her big mean vehicle acted of its own accord:

Allen’s car left the road and hit a tree, police said.

Finally, a second woman fell prey to wandering car syndrome:

The car went off the left side of the road, hit a concrete median and came to rest on the left shoulder of the highway, police said.

Also, note that the women were wearing seatbelts, which led to “moderate” injuries; the man, not wearing a seatbelt, also had “moderate” injuries, as though the consequences of ignoring the government diktat had no affect at all.

Heartless Missouri Lawmakers Keep the Unborn out of College

I’m going to get ahead of the curve and express outrage about the Missouri legislature’s attack not only on unpapered pioneers, but also its bias against unborn children identified in this story:

The Senate legislation generally doesn’t go quite as far. For example, illegal immigrants who are already born could go to college if they don’t get in-state tuition.

Why can’t the unborn go to college with the in-state rate? Or is there an in-utero rate that’s cheaper?

The Animal Effect

The Animal Effect, wherein an animal in jeopardy in a movie is more poignant than human carnage (a la Independence Day, where the loudest cheer erupted in the theater when the dog survived the destruction of LA whereas presumably hundreds of thousands of humans, including minor characters, did not), strikes the news:

Zookeepers were called in to help when police discovered a man-sized alligator in the basement of a Carthage home.

Police found the American alligator while responding to a call about an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Monday.

The remainder of the story discusses the efforts to rescue the animal. No word on the accident victim or attempted suicide.

The man is just the man, but the alligator is an unspoiled child of Mother Gaia.

I only wish I were kidding, but I think it does fit into the current inversion of values, where all things of nature are more valuable than damn, dirty humans.

It Could Have Happened To Any Of Us

Prosecutors recognize that any of us who experience frustration with home improvement project are only a couple steps and some intelligence away from this:

Prosecutors are not expected to file charges against a Missouri man who fatally shot his wife while he was trying to install a satellite TV system in their home.

Henry County investigators ruled that Patsy Long’s March 22 death was accidental. Her husband, Ronald Long, fired his .22 caliber pistol from inside their Deepwater home after he couldn’t punch a hole through the exterior wall using other means.

On one hand, I am being a little snarky because this seems so foolish as to be negligent, but on the other, I am happy to see prosecutors who can see an accident that doesn’t want responsibility and a couple percentage points on their conviction rate.

I do think a gun safety course might be in order, though, ainna?

Book Report: Mad As Hell by Mike Lupica (1996)

I love Mike Lupica’s fiction, and this is the first of his nonfiction I’ve tried. Its subtitle is “How Sports Got Away From The Fans And How We Get It Back”. I read it over the course of two nights, and each was different.

I read the most of the book on the first night, and I almost felt like I’d been plagiarizing Lupica’s points about sports since he wrote it in the middle 1990s, and I hadn’t cared enough to make points until after 1999 or so. Still, he lays into the owners who don’t understand the sport, city “leaders” that give rich owners what ever they want just to attract/retain a sports team for the prestige it gives the city and themselves, the players who are out for themselves at the expense of the sport and the fans, and the fawning media that offers little but rah-rah coverage and machismo posturing from its jock-wannabes sports reporters. So I was really into the book.

On the second night, I got further into it and into some solutions. First, though, we have the problem of all the white people in attendance at the sporting events when most of the athletes are black and Hispanic. All righty then, I thought we’d covered that with the expensive nature of sporting events, but Lupica needed another chapter, so he introduces with a Bryant Gumbel bit about showboating as cultural and then goes into some sort of racial overtones of his own. And then he offers as a megasolution a consumers’ watchdog group for sports fans headed by Ralph Nader (this, remember, is when he was a semi-obscure consumer advocate before he became a semi-obscure presidential election spoiler).

Ultimately, the book is a bit repetitive at the end and really seems to want some sort of macro-level top-down solutions to the crisis in sporting, but ultimately I think that the problems inherent in the sports world are reflections of the diminishing class in the country at large. So having a special commission or board of fan poobahs along for rules changes or whatnot would really only give a set of corruptive influence to another set out people who would ultimately lack class and would act in their interest as board members instead of fans.

So my enjoyment of the book is not unqualified, but since I agree with many of the viewpoints, I appreciated seeing them represented in print by someone I enjoy reading.

Books mentioned in this review:


Holding a Line

A line, any line. The St. Louis County municipality of Clayton refuses to give something to a land developer:

Clayton turned down a request last fall by the developer to include the land into an adjacent tax increment financing district.

Of course, my inner cynic (inner cynic? It’s showing all the freaking time) says this is only because the Soviet of Clayton has a better 10-year plan for a different TIF district gift to a different developer that includes the other land, but maybe, just maybe, Clayton is holding a line.

Schools Put It All On Black 31

A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel watchdog report finds that some school districts have been funding pension plans and whatnot with risky investment schemes:

Five Wisconsin public school districts have made an investment gamble that could force taxpayers to finance multimillion-dollar bailouts.

The districts – Kenosha, Kimberly Area, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay – have piled up debt in deals to help fund health insurance and other non-pension benefits for retirees. But as global financial markets have seized up, the districts have been told the value of their investments has fallen so much that they might need to come up with a combined $53 million to avoid default.

Ah, what the heck, it’s funny money anyway, right? The taxpayers always have more.