Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Labels: bighorn sheep
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Champ de Glace
Sunday, October 26, 2008
- Herbert Hoover, President of the United States, May 1, 1930
"All safe deposit boxes in banks or financial institutions have been sealed... and may only be opened in the presence of an agent of the I.R.S."- President F.D. Roosevelt, 1933
Here's a list of fatuous and scary comments from political and financial figures, circa 1929-1933.
Any of it sound familiar?
Labels: great depression
Reviews Too Late: The Sandbaggers
The Sandbaggers is a Cold War espionage drama dating from the 1970s--- the length of the characters' sideburns is a clue that I decoded before I got to the copyright date of MDCCCCLXXVIII. It stars the Young Roy Marsden, who looks surprisingly like the Old Roy Marsden except with more hair. It is labeled a "Yorkshire Television Colour Production," which assures us that, while the budget was very small and the sets tacky, it's at least not in black and white. (The sets would have looked more convincing in black and white, if you ask me.)
The Sandbaggers is the only spy drama I know of written by someone who seems to have been an actual spy. (Creator Ian Mackintosh disappeared on a flight over the Bering Sea before he could finish writing the series.)
Whether Mackintosh was a spy or not, he's certainly got a convincing mastery of the jargon and tradecraft. Marsden's character, Burnside, is the D-Ops of SOS, who reports to Peele, the Deputy Head SIS, though Marsden frequently goes over Peele's head to C, who is a former diplomat, and thus distrusted by Burnside, who himself has an operations background. (All, however, unite against the threat of MI5.) Burnside's also the former son-in-law of the Permanent Undersecretary, who oversees SIS, and is friends with Jeff Ross, who reports to Langley, and constitutes the other half of the "Special Relationship."
You will understand from this description that the story is more about bureaucracy than derring-do. The series' low budget probably has a lot to do with this--- the agents drive Minis rather than Aston-Martins--- but the low budget is mirrored in the plots, in which Burnside's special operations unit is hanging by a fiscal thread.
In any case, most episodes consist mainly of people talking to each other--- but the dialog is great dialog, and Marsden is just wonderful with it. Burnside spends more time trying to keep his unit away from operations that sound good to politicians than in volunteering his section for active duty. When he does commit his three-person unit to action, they're as liable as not to end up in a complete catastrophe, as in the episode in which one of his agents has to kill another to keep him from talking under torture. (In fact a lot of the regulars die in this series, sometimes in completely arbitrary ways, unusual for a series that has so little action.)
Burnside is a terrific character--- he's such a master manipulator and bureaucratic infighter that it's impossible to decode what he's actually thinking, or what his real motives might be. He considers that his subordinates' private lives are, in effect, his personal property, and when one of his agents gets engaged to a woman he considers unsuitable, he employs blackmail to destroy the relationship. When he asks another woman to dinner, is he genuinely interested in her or trying to manipulate her into staying in line? (Both, probably.)
I haven't finished the series, so please don't post any spoilers.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Jo Walton Sez . . .
Williams is a remarkably underrated writer. He’s amazingly versatile and he’s never written the same book twice . . . I’ve been reading him enthusiastically and buying every book he’s written since I fell in love with Knight Moves on that long ago train. I’ve been expecting him to become a bestseller at any moment with a big breakout book, but it never quite happens. He keeps on writing one brilliant fascinating book after another without ever quite becoming a star. I don’t understand it. (Can I just say that I don't understand that, either?)
And allow me to say, by way of thank you, that if you haven't read Walton's Farthing series, you should go right out and do it.
And, on the same site, Jason Henninger talks about playing Spore.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The Starbucks Economy
"I propose the Starbucks theory of international economics. The higher the concentration of expensive, nautically themed, faux-Italian-branded Frappuccino joints in a country's financial capital, the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic financial losses . . .
" . . . At first blush, there's a pretty close correlation between a country having a significant Starbucks presence, especially in its financial capital, and major financial cock-ups, from Australia (big blowups in finance, hedge funds, and asset management companies; 23 stores) to the United Kingdom (nationalization of its largest banks). In many ways, London in recent years has been a more concentrated version of New York—the wellspring of many toxic innovations, a hedge-fund haven. It sports 256 Starbucks. In Spain, which is now grappling with the bursting of a speculative coastal real-estate bubble (sound familiar?), the financial capital, Madrid, has 48 outlets. In crazy Dubai, 48 Starbucks outlets serve a population of 1.4 million. And so on: South Korea, which is bailing outs its banks big time, has 253; Paris, the locus of several embarrassing debacles, has 35.
"But there are many spots on the globe where it's tough to find a Starbucks. And these are precisely the places where banks are surviving, in large part because they have not financially integrated with banks in the Starbucks economies . . . "
The full story here.
Labels: starbucks economy
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Reviews Too Late: Ninja Vixens!
One chop. Intermittently amusing. Not nearly enough breasts to hold my attention, given how wretched everything else was.
Labels: ninja vixens
What astonished me was that I had to stand in line for nearly an hour before I could vote. The whole point of early voting is to avoid these kinds of lines, but here we are two weeks before election day, and the citizens of Valencia County seem to be taking this election thing really seriously. This hardly ever happens. Nobody votes around here unless their cousin is running, or something. (Of course, that's most of the time.)
Of course it was a ballot that was recorded electronically, so my vote was rendered into electronic form and then sent to Our Secret Masters, who will alter it as necessary. But at least I've done my civic duty for the year.
Labels: election 2008
Alternate SF Covers
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
A Writer's Life, Again
On Monday, I wrote at some length about the distractions that were preventing me from properly thinking about my work, let alone getting much of it done.
Most of Tuesday I was a total wreck. I blame the fact that we were socked in by rainclouds. I'm a solar activated person, one reason I live in an area that's sunny 360 days per year. Clouds and gloom weigh on me like, well, clouds and gloom.
Tuesday I could barely drag myself out of bed. I was so down that I couldn't even summon up the energy to play computer games. The best that could be said for me was that I got some reading done.
And then, late in the afternoon, the mood shifted. (Not coincidentally, the clouds were dissipating.) I did my workout on the Total Gym, soaked my sore muscles in the hot tub while watching a lovely sunset, then cooked a healthy dinner of tuna steak with mushrooms, asparagus, and a salad.
Then I went to the laptop and wrote like a demon for several hours. Wrote well, finishing more words on the one night than I'd managed for a week or more.
I completed a chapter. It helped in building momentum that the end of the chapter was in sight, because this chapter was one of those accompanied by a lot of second-guessing on my part. The chapter was almost all exposition, and as I worked I kept thinking, "Maybe I should deal with this piece of information later. Or earlier. Or maybe I should just cut it."
It's impossible at this early stage to know whether I made any of the right decisions. But at least the chapter is done, and I can deal with all those issues later.
When I finished in the early hours of the morning, I felt very pleased with myself.
This morning was sunny, and so was I. I bounded out of bed full of energy. I started the day with martial arts, ate a modest and healthy lunch, spent the afternoon dealing with the sort of trivial annoyances that had so vexed me on Monday. I ran for an hour on the elliptical machine, did my stretches, watched sunset from the hot tub, cooked myself another tuna steak. Then I listened to the presidential debate while playing Rome. (The score: Obama 3 for 3, more because his opponent kept shooting himself in the neck than because Obama was so brilliant. And also I am kicking Rome's butt. A good day for sports.)
So now I've got the laptop fired up and will be launching more genius into the fictionsphere. Excelsior!
Forecast for tomorrow: Sunny. Warmer. Wordier.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
No, Penny didn't enter a Mary Stewart novel. She went into the Crystal Cave under the Naica Mountains in Mexico, a place where you can find huge crystals forty feet long and thicker around than a telephone pole. The place looks like Superman's Fortress of Solitude in the 1978 movie.
Except that the Fortress of Solitude wasn't 130 degrees Fahrenheit, or eighty percent humidity, conditions that prevent any explorers from being able to cool themselves with perspiration. Penny and her fellow explorers had to stuff their clothes with ice in order to cool themselves far enough to last 30 minutes in that hideous environment.
The adventure was documented on the National Geographic Channel. The episode repeats 10pm Eastern time on Tuesday, so check it out.
A Writer's Life
Some of you, I'm sure, wonder why I'm not more prolific, like those other SF writers.
A description of my day might give you a good idea.
I rose this morning, fed the cats, ate a banana, and went out into the breezeway to do martial arts. I did about a quarter-hour of kata before repeated telephone calls and other distractions wrecked my concentration, so I gave up. I showered and had lunch. I went to the office supply place, but they didn't have everything I needed, so I had to go someplace else. I bought groceries, filled the gas tank at one place, then went to the tire store, where I read a book while my tired were rotated.
It was Columbus Day, so I didn't have to spend any time reading mail.
By this time it was 4pm. I read and answered email, did a modest amount of web browsing, then ran on the elliptical machine for an hour. I did my stretches, relaxed for a bit in the hot tub, then made and ate my dinner.
I must admit that I spent the next couple hours playing Europa Universalis Rome--- actually it should be called Roma if they're going to title the whole thing in Latin, shouldn't it? At any rate, I take full responsibility for those hours, as our politicians would say.
I wouldn't have played so long if Ptolemy hadn't put a contract out on my general, forcing me to invade him and teach him a lesson.
It is now 11pm, and I'm now ready to start writing--- after I prepare a package for Federal Express to pick up tomorrow morning, and call FedEx to get schedule the pickup. All the other things I was going to do today, like deal with the insurance company and the Social Security Administration re: my mom and a few other things, are going to be postponed till tomorrow.
I really need a secretary/dogsbody to handle most of this for me, but I can't afford one. I've shoved off as much work as I can on Kathy, who is surprisingly cool with it.
How do people who work eight hours per day manage?
Okay. To work now.
Reviews Too Late: The Wire
Calling The Wire a cop show is like describing Oedipus Rex as a family drama. It's an exploration of institutions and the people who live in and struggle with them. In the first season, we saw the Baltimore cops being screwed by the cop system, the lawyers being screwed by the legal system, and the drug dealers being screwed by the criminal system. Building on the first season, the second season explored the failing culture of the docks, the third the failed political culture, the fourth the failed schools, and lastly the failure of the media to note truth from tabloid.
There are no big-name actors, only character actors working in ensemble. (Some of the actors were brand-new, including convicted murderer Felicia "Snoop" Pearson in the role of Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, a character that Stephen King considers the most frightening female character ever.) The writing is brilliant, mainly by creators David Simon and Ed Burns, but also by novelists Richard Price, George Pelicanos, and Dennis Lehane. A lot of local Baltimore reporters also wrote for the series.
The series never lost the ability to surprise. The story and characters were always taking unexpected turns, and the writers were never afraid to kill off characters even if the audience had grown fond of them. (RIP Omar, sigh.)
The only failure is in the series was in the character of its ostensible lead, Jimmy McNulty. How often have we seen the alcoholic, self-destructive cop obsessed with his work and hopeless in his relationships? The writers and the actor did their best, but McNulty never quite rose above the stereotype. Alone of the characters, I always found his series arc completely predictable--- at least until the final episode.
In that last episode, the writers at last allowed themselves a bit of sentimentality. The long, drawn-out farewell--- accompanied here and there by the Pogue's "Body of an American"--- framed all the characters in the place which fate, and time, and their own desperate inclinations had sent them. We had time to say goodbye to all of them.
David Simons' next series will supposedly be set in the New Orleans music culture, post-Katrina. Hey. He found a subject even more depressing than the drug culture in Baltimore!
I'll be glued to the set.
Labels: the wire
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The $700 billion bailout is intended to buy or somehow guarantee the toxic debt taken on by banks, so that they can then feel free to lend money again.
But, as Khan points out, what if they don't? What if they just hang onto the money as a hedge against other parts of their debt turning toxic--- which, as Khan pointed out, is happening very fast as every conceivable investment begins to go down the tubes.
He also pointed out that $700 billion is more than all of our banks are worth.
So what he suggested doing was using the money to capitalize about thirty brand-new national banks. The new banks won't have toxic debt, they can start lending right away.
The old banks either fail or don't, but it doesn't matter either way, the money system is safe and full of cash.
And--- so that we don't end up with thirty huge state-owned banks--- the banks then issue stock which is distributed evenly to every taxpayer in the U.S.
They'll never do it, because it doesn't serve the interests of anyone but the taxpayer, but isn't this a totally cool new meme?
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Brief Commercial Message
Apple Picking Time
Monday, October 06, 2008
Celebrity Chimp Tells All
Cheeta, Johnny Weismuller's pal, has finally written his memoirs. And, as the holder of the Guinness Book of Records title for world's oldest ape, he's seen a lot.
How much of his success in films was down to him being an animal? Cheeta will accept it's as much as 10%; the rest, however, was talent. In common with every other showbiz memoirist, he claims never to read his reviews; he then quotes them extensively. He mentions several times that he never won an effing Oscar. He will recall a great star such as Rex Harrison by first calling him “that marvellous light comedian”, then getting down to the more interesting truth (“universally despised, impotent, alcoholic”), before coming properly out with it: “an absolutely irredeemable c*** who tried to murder me”. And, like many another stellar memoirist, he can't resist a vicious sideswipe at a fellow thesp. “For three decades I think I ‘phoned it in' a bit,” he confesses. “It happens to actors. Look at De Niro.”
. . . look at the great shrieking jungle that was Hollywood in its heyday, and who better to understand it than a grizzled old showbiz chimp with an in-built Darwinian perspective? “What does any organism ever do except - survive?” writes Cheeta. “In this business, if your profile ever drops, you're dead.”
Labels: cheeta autobiography
Sunday, October 05, 2008
21st Century Crime
" . . . an ad was posted on the free classified advertising site, asking for 15 to 20 men to show up near the Bank of America on Old Owen Road at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday to work on a maintenance project called "Restore Monroe."
"The men were to wear dark blue shirts and surgical masks covering their noses and mouths. In return, they'd be paid about $28 per hour, which Willis said is well above the standard for that kind of work . . . "
While these guys were standing around providing a distraction, a man dressed in a similar fashion maced the guard, grabbed the bag of money, and ran for a nearby river, where his getaway inner tube was waiting.
This is damn near perfect. Using 21st century communication technology, a man recruits a gang of accomplices who don't even know they're accomplices. He's assembled a criminal gang as if they were a flashmob! ("Wear a flat cap, domino mask, and a striped shirt, and carry a bag labeled 'SWAG.'")
Meanwhile in Nigeria, Henry Okah and the boys of MEND use similar tactics to recruit a guerilla army, embargo and/or steal half a million barrels of oil every day.
Here's an idea whose time has come. (And fortunately, it's what my next book is going to be about.)
Friday, October 03, 2008
Ceci N'est Pas Un Livre
Labels: this is not a game
The markets went down.
Green tea and willow. In shampoo.
Does anyone out there have any idea how these items are supposed to make my hair cleaner or fluffier or whatever?
Green tea has antioxidants, I know. Does that mean that my hair won't get cancer?
And willow is what they make aspirin out of. So now my hair won't get joint pains or headaches.
Does anyone know why the cosmetics industry puts this stuff in our stuff? Any idea at all?
This reminds me of an incident early in my marriage. I walked into the bathroom and there was Kathy without any clothes on. Which is usually a welcome sight.
"Get out of here!" she yelled. "I'm anointing my body with dead turtle parts!"
I left rather quickly, as I'm sure would any of you. I was very new to this marriage thing and had no idea to that point that my spouse was deranged.
Kathy explained later that she was moisturizing, or whatever, with an Olay substance, which has some kind of turtle product in it. Apparently "Olay" is French for "dessicated turtle organs."
Why do dead turtle parts make your skin smooth? Does anyone know?
And even if it's true, who was the person who thought of the idea and decided to test it? I mean, it's a totally deranged notion, but someone had to think of it and then follow through, right?
Do answers exist to any of these questions?
Thursday, October 02, 2008
When commentators invoke 1929, I am dubious. According to most historians and economists, that depression had more to do with overlarge factory inventories, a stock-market crash, and Germany's inability to pay back war debts, which then led to continuing strain on British gold reserves. None of those factors is really an issue now. Contemporary industries have very sensitive controls for trimming production as consumption declines; our current stock-market dip followed bank problems that emerged more than a year ago; and there are no serious international problems with gold reserves, simply because banks no longer peg their lending to them . . .
The problems had emerged around 1870, starting in Europe. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, formed in 1867, in the states unified by Prussia into the German empire, and in France, the emperors supported a flowering of new lending institutions that issued mortgages for municipal and residential construction, especially in the capitals of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Mortgages were easier to obtain than before, and a building boom commenced. Land values seemed to climb and climb; borrowers ravenously assumed more and more credit, using unbuilt or half-built houses as collateral. The most marvelous spots for sightseers in the three cities today are the magisterial buildings erected in the so-called founder period.
But the economic fundamentals were shaky. Wheat exporters from Russia and Central Europe faced a new international competitor who drastically undersold them. The 19th-century version of containers manufactured in China and bound for Wal-Mart consisted of produce from farmers in the American Midwest. They used grain elevators, conveyer belts, and massive steam ships to export trainloads of wheat to abroad. Britain, the biggest importer of wheat, shifted to the cheap stuff quite suddenly around 1871. By 1872 kerosene and manufactured food were rocketing out of America's heartland, undermining rapeseed, flour, and beef prices. The crash came in Central Europe in May 1873, as it became clear that the region's assumptions about continual economic growth were too optimistic. Europeans faced what they came to call the American Commercial Invasion. A new industrial superpower had arrived, one whose low costs threatened European trade and a European way of life . . .