Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bedtime

My wife went off to some sort of wild knitting revels tonight, which meant that I had to put both girls to bed myself. The outcome? Both down on time, and no crying! The Lord be praised for small mercies.

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Listening to: Cake - Comfort Eagle - 03 - Shadow Stabbing
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Nacho, Nacho Man!

Turns out I'm nachos. Who'd a-thunk it? If my wife's a taco person, what does this mean for our marriage? The most defining question among them? Which fight would you most like to see? There is only one correct choice.

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Listening to: The Boston Camerata - Nueva España - 04 - A Este Sol Peregrino
via FoxyTunes

Pie crust

My wife has an excellent pie crust recipe. I'm not sure of its provenance, but she's a trained pastry chef, so whether she concocted it or it merely receives her stamp of approval, you can be assured that it's quite good.

The other day at work, a woman with whom I have shared this recipe asked me what my wife does with left-over pie crust once the pie is constructed. I didn't have an answer, because there isn't any left-over pie crust. That is to say, you take what isn't used on the pie, put it on a baking sheet and bake it into a species of cookie.

I almost felt that I ought to react like the people in the story about the whiskey-tasting. A man was on a whiskey-tasting in Scotland, and, never having done it before, asked the guide if whiskey was tasted in the same manner as wine: rolled in the mouth and then spat out. The guide looked at him as if at a particularly slow and truculent child. "Spit it OOT? Oot, didja say?" And no one spoke to him again for the rest of the tasting tour.

Saving pie crust, forsooth!

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Listening to: Joy Electric - We Are Rock (The Faint Mix)
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quotations from Modern Times by Paul Johnson

Leninism was not only a heresy [from Marxism]; it was exactly the same heresy which created fascism.
....
Why did the normal recovery [from the start of the Great Depression] not take place?

To find the answer we must probe beneath the conventional view of Herbert Hoover and his successor as president, Franklin Roosevelt. The received view is that Hoover, because of his ideological attachment to laissez-faire, refused to use government money to reflate the economy and so prolonged and deepened the Depression until the election of Roosevelt, who then promptly reversed official policy, introducing the New Deal, a form of Keynesianism, and pulled America out of the trough. Hoover is presented as the symbol of the dead, discredited past, Roosevelt as the harbinger of the future and 1932-3 the watershed between old-style free market economics and the benevolent new managed economics and social welfare of Keynes. Such a version of events began as the quasi-journalistic propaganda of Roosevelt's colleagues and admirers and was then constructed into a solid historical matrix by two entire generations of liberal-democrat historians.

This most durable of historical myths has very little truth in it.
....
On many issues he [Hoover] was a liberal. He wanted aid to flow to underdeveloped countries. He deplored the exclusion of Japanese from the 1924 immigration quotas. His wife entertained the ladies of black congressmen. He did not make anti-Semitic jokes, like Woodrow Wilson and his wife or Franklin Roosevelt.
....
Indeed, in all essentials, Hoover's actions embodied what would later be called a "Keynesian" policy. He cut taxes heavily. Those of a family man with an income of $4,000 went down by two-thirds. He pushed up government spending, deliberately running up a huge government deficit of $2.2 billion in 1931, so that the government share of the Gross National Product went up from 16.4 per cent in 1930 to 21.5 per cent in 1931.
....
The mutual antipathy [between Hoover and FDR] proved of great historical importance. Roosevelt seems to have been quite unaware that Hoover genuinely regarded him as a public menace; not taking politics too seriously himself, he dismissed Hoover's Cassandra-cries as partisan verbiage, the sort he might employ himself.
....
Beyond generating the impression of furious movement, what his [FDR's] Treasury Secretary, William Woodin, called "swift and staccato action", there was no actual economic policy behind the programme [FDR's first hundred days]... While increasing federal spending in some directions he slashed it in others, cutting the pensions of totally disabled war-veterans, for instance, from $40 to $20 a month...
....
When Roosevelt took over from Hoover he made matters worse. Hoover had helped to plan a world economic conference, to be held in London June-July 1933. It might have persuaded the "have-not" powers that there were alternatives to fighting for a living. On 3 July Roosevelt torpedoed it. Thereafter, no real effort was made to create a stable financial framework within which disputes could be settled by diplomacy. In the 1920s the world had been run by the power of money. In the 1930s it was subject to the arbitration of the sword.
....
Right up to his death in 1945, there was an incorrigible element of frivolity in Roosevelt's handing of foreign policy. It was characteristic that one of his principal sources of information about Britain, and on European events generally, in the later 1930s was The Week, the ultra-Left conspiracy-theory bulletin put out by the Daily Worker journalist Claud Cockburn. Some of Roosevelt's ambassadorial appointments were exceptionally ill-judged. He sent the violently anti-British Joseph Kennedy to London, and the corrupt and gullible Joseph Davies to Moscow. The latter move was particularly destructive because the US Moscow embassy was well-staffed and superbly informed, backed by a highly professional division of Eastern European affairs in the State Department. The Soviet Foreign Minister, Litvinov, admitted that this division had better records on Soviet foreign policy than the Soviet government itself. Five months after Davies became ambassador in 1936, with instructions to win Stalin's friendship at all costs, the division was abolished, its library dispersed and its files destroyed.
....
Communists had always been infuriated by the tendency of facts to get in the way of Marxist theses. One might say that the whole of Stalin's dictatorship had been a campaign against facts...

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Listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - 01 - Love Struck Baby
via FoxyTunes

Two books and a half

I have them down as three new books over on my list, but it's really more like a two books and a half. There just aren't rules for this situation! I read Mike by PG Wodehouse, which I had read the latter half of previously. The book was originally written and published as a large tome called simply Mike. But later it was reissued as two books, Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith. I had read the latter previously, but not the former. And this time around I read the original single volume work Mike. So was a new book or not? I decided yes, since I only count books as read once I've finished the whole thing, not after I've read part. It was an okay book, but the latter half was definitely superior. Psmith is one of Wodehouse's better creations and the first part was a rather mundane school story, though not without its laughs. Fans of school stories might like it, or Wodehouse completists.

Another book was the very disturbing, but useful and necessary Religion of Peace? by Robert Spencer. I read almost all of it in one day, and I'd suggest it to anyone. He does a marvelous job of demonstrating his subtitle, Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't. At the same time, he also shows that the focus of most in the West, when they consider religions that they consider a threat, usually light upon Christianity as the more dangerous, which is ridiculous. Whether you fear the coming theocracy of the Religious Right™ or are a conservative who believes (along with our President) that "Islam means peace", you'll find the book edifying. And if you're already awakened to the threat that orthodox Islam poses to the rest of the world, you'll find some useful information to help you show your less cognizant friends the truth.

Finally, I read Thomas Morris' Making Sense of It All after having it on my shelf for nearly a decade. It was an assigned book in my freshman philosophy class, but I don't think we ever got around to discussing it, spending most of our time on Socrates and Hume ("Has-Been Deities" would be a great name for a rock band). Anyway, I should have read it sooner. It's a short (under 200 pages) book, but very enlightening. It talks about Pascal's Pensées and why deep thought about the meaning of life is so important for everyone to do at some point in their life and why so few people actually do take such thought. Of the 18 books I've read so far this year, this is the one I would recommend first and foremost. Say, there's an idea!

I'll stick a little note at the top of my blog, "If you only read one of the books I've read this year, it ought to be Making Sense of It All by Thomas V. Morris". Brilliant!

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Listening to: King's X - Tape Head - 02 - Fade
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Boy, this looks familiar

Where am I? Oh, yeah. Way behind on my book reviews, no wonder I recognise the scenery.

Partly this is because I'm starting the year with quite a string of new books. 14 of the first 15 have been books I've never read before. And, to be fair, I've reviewed a few of them already.

My Grandfather's Son is a memoir of Clarence Thomas. I didn't know much about him before reading this book, other than that I liked his judicial philosophy (from what I know of it, not being a legal scholar) and thought he generally did a good job being a Supreme Court Justice. The book gives a lot of information about his childhood and what shaped his views on life. He gives a lot of credit to his grandfather, and rightfully so. His grandfather sounds like a very impressive man who did marvellously well with very few resources. It's not a long book (a bit over 200 pages, if I recall aright) and it's an easy, engaging read. You should check it out. The man was so maligned in the popular press when he was nominated to the Supreme Court, and his reputation has never really been rehabilitated in the mind of the general public. Do your part for honest inquiry and read his memoir.

Alan Moore's Watchmen is talked up all over the internet wherever they talk about comics. So I decided to see what the fuss was about and read it for myself. And it was okay. I think part of my lack of enthusiasm was the fact that so many other people have said that it was utterly fantastic and it had been built up too big. It's a mildly interesting meditation about the nature of power and the question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes: "who watches the watchmen?" Ultimately, however, I find myself out of sympathy with the characters with which I am supposed to sympathise (I presume) and the book fails to deliver on being a serious inquiry into a serious topic. The problem with trying to tackle a serious topic in a way that is generally not considered appropriate (a comic book, in this case) is that often then the author comes across as pretentious; and Alan Moore does. A warning for those not familiar with the trend of modern comics: this is not a Superman tale of your youth. It's pretty dark and deals with some very bad people and others who had very bad things happen to them. Not a kids comic book.

I finished Paul Johnson's A History of the American People, and the trend of disappointment in his books continues. This one borrowed very heavily from Modern Times, to the point where whole paragraphs seemed to have been lifted verbatim from one into the other. The first half was pretty good and it was an instructive look at the origins of America to the time before British colonies were well-established, but the latter half was less engaging. Still, for anyone looking for a solid overview of all of American history, you could do a lot worse.

I finally read one of Ian Fleming's James Bond books. Probably not the best one to begin with since it's left hanging whether or not Bond dies at the end. (I found this confusing to no end. Did Fleming really intend to kill him off at that point?) From Russia With Love isn't too bad, and the movie wasn't that different from the book. I think. I've only seen the movie once, and it was some time ago. The book itself was rather forgettable. I haven't started on the other two (I got an anthology of three from the library) and I don't know that I will. They're pulp thrillers, for certain; no redeeming literary value here, thank you very much. Beautiful women, evil communist villains, and lots of violence and implied sex. No wonder JFK liked them.

Lastly, Top of the Heap, by Erle Stanley Gardner (of Perry Mason fame) but published under a psuedonym. It was pretty good, a bit better than Fleming, without as much sex and gratuitous violence (also a plus), and I'm more fond of private detective mystery stories than I am of spy thrillers. Gardner's skill seems to have been not writing magnificent prose and composing compelling plots, but rather thinking up new and interesting mysteries and writing engaging dialogue. And I'll take that.

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Listening to: Cowboy Junkies - The Trinity Sessions - 02 - Misguided Angel
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cameos are the best!

Did you know Strong Bad is in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Seriously. Check it out.

Palmtree Pundit again.
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Listening to: King's X - Ear Candy - 10 - Fathers
via FoxyTunes

Who'd a thunk it?

Anne at Palmtree Pundit wonders what people are doing that they never imagined they'd be doing twenty years previously.

Well, I never imagined that I wouldn't be staying up to all sorts of unreasonable hours of... wait a sec...

Okay, I never thought I would ever stop eating junk food just because it was on offer instead of because I was... um, give me a minute here...

Right, got one. I never thought that riding the bus would become an onerous chore instead of an exciting adventure.

Boy, is that ever true.

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Listening to: 菅野よう子 - スタミナ・ローズ
via FoxyTunes

It's funnier because the movie was bad.

Huckabee ain't a quitter, I see. I guess he knows that all quitters are losers. Too bad some losers aren't quitters.

And, on a serious note, I'm not sure I can hold my nose long enough to vote for McCain.

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Listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Vol 2 - 12 - Shake For Me (Live)
via FoxyTunes

You're not having fun at work


Until someone gets his coffee mug encased in Jell-O.
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Listening to: Louis Jordan - The Best of - 07 - Knock Me A Kiss
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Words, Words, Words

There's something about Hamlet that speaks deeply to me. Not that I have anything in common with him, really, but so many of the lines of the play resonate with me as being exemplary of the common human condition. I'm always a little surprised to find people who have encountered Hamlet and not felt that way.

I have of late, but
wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire: why, it appeareth nothing to me
but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how
express and admirable, in action how like an angel,
in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the
world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what
is this quintessence of dust?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Did I do right?

I don't know. I didn't know at the time, nor do I know now.

As I rode the bus home from work the other day, I saw a woman get on the bus and I thought I saw something drop out of her bag on the ground just before she boarded. By the time I managed to get a look, she was on board and I would have had to speak immediately to tell her in time for it to be recovered. But it was a pack of cigarettes. So I said nothing because I was uncertain if I ought to speak and tell her and my uncertainty decided for me. Should I have told her that she lost her cigarettes?