Rubber Band Man

In which I discuss the ways I've over-extended myself, as well as an almost good film

The list of emotions which make me want to write is a long one, but "stressed out" is absent from it. Is "stressed out" really an emotion? It is for my purposes, so just go with it. Anyway, I am currently working the equivalent of three jobs. Two of them are part time and don't pay, but the third makes up for it by being more than full time but paying well. 

Something has to give. I am not a workaholic by any means (ask any boss I've ever had), but I'm insecure and have difficulty saying "no." I can juggle it all for a limited amount of time, but when it starts to poison my time away from work with worry and fear, I have to back away. That's not strictly true; I usually just disappear from one context or another, but that's not really a good option at this time. 

The good news is that one of the side gigs is now proceeding nicely and has the potential to turn into a paying side gig, which is among the best sort of side gig. I'll share more about it as it gets a little more solid, but it lives at the intersection of two things I love and it feels like a really good fit. 


We saw Valerian the other night and I loved it on some levels and couldn't have been more annoyed on others. It is flat-out gorgeous, with the kind of outrageous visuals you're only going to get from Luc Besson. Everything on the screen was carefully designed and photographed. It's right up there with The Fifth Element in terms of eye candy.

I didn't even mind the story as much as some of the reviewers did. It's a little obvious, but for space opera? Plot-wise, it's miles ahead of the similar but inferior Jupiter Ascending. Sure, you know 90% of the resolution within 15 minutes, but that's hardly a fatal flaw.

Where the movie tripped over its own feet was....well, let me ask you a couple of questions. Did you like The Fifth Element? Ok, would you still have liked it if, instead of Bruce Willis, the lead actor was a guy who looked more like a teenager in a Manchester club listening to The Smiths? Dane DeHaan may have a brilliant career ahead of him, but he never caught fire in this role. And fire would have been required, because some of the dialogue was clunky and cringe-worthy. A breezier performance might have gotten away with we never got any sense of who Major Valerian was until it was literally explained to us near the end. "You always follow the rules." Wait, what? We never saw any of that.

It seemed interminably long as it creaked towards its telegraphed conclusion. I don't recall that being an issue with The Fifth Element, but the earlier film was only ten minutes shorter at two hours and seven minutes.

Maybe Valerian will wind up being revered after the fact the way other Besson films have. It's visually stunning, maybe even his best looking film. It just would have been a lot better if it were an hour shorter and with a different cast.

-RK

Been down so long

I find it hard to write anything here when I'm feeling down.* I'm buried at work, my body is not feeling quite right, and there's the ever-present feeling that this country is free-falling into one or more disasters. The stress has wrecked my sleep schedule and seriously cut into my time with Nicole, who is doing everything within her considerable power to prop me up right now.

Fortunately, she's very, very good at propping me up. 

This is a long way of saying that I haven't been good for much anything beyond "showing up at work" over the last couple of weeks, although there have been a few tidbits of interest:

  • We have learned that camping in triple-digit weather is a Very Bad Idea.
  • Our pet snails are getting along worryingly well.
  • One of my aliases** may have secured an interesting writing gig on the side.
  • "Burn Notice" was a damn fine show for three seasons.***
  • Warren Ellis completed the script for Fell #10 (#1-9 were insanely good).
  • The gap between starting a long-term plan and seeing measurable progress is the worst.

That last point concerns our long-term business plan. We've taken some steps forward, but the goal is still well over the horizon. It's like starting an exercise program: The hardest part is the time after you've started it but before you start seeing measurable results. We'll get there but it's going to take a minute or two.

I guess the long and short of it is that I've allowed myself to fall in to a rut. I do that as sort of a self-preservation technique (of highly debatable effectiveness) when I'm overwhelmed at work. The best way I've found to get out of these ruts is to wallow in 'em as long as I need to, and then to force myself to put one foot forward and do the things I mean to do but haven't. Things like posting to this blog even when I don't have a great deal to say. 

-RK

* In this sense, this site is the anti-LiveJournal.

** If "pseudonym" is correct, then shouldn't "alianym" be acceptable as well? 

*** Did you know that, before he starred in "Burn Notice," Jeffrey Donovan was in Blair Witch 2? In fairness, I'm not sure anyone ever saw Blair Witch 2, but still..

Of Men (Minus Mice)

"It has always seemed strange to me, " said Doc. "Things we admire in men, kindness, and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." 

"Who wants to be good if he has to be hungry too?" said Richard Frost.

"Oh, it isn't a matter of hunger. It's something quite different. The sale of souls to gain the whole world is completely voluntary and almost unanimous-but not quite. "

from Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I just finished reading a couple of Steinbeck's shorter novels, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. They're both fun reads but they're not without their problems. Some of Steinbeck's attempts at dialect have aged poorly, and his depiction of the paisanos of Monterey, California are well-meaning but come across as patronizing (at best).

My favorite Steinbeck novels are his most focused. East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath are not just great stories; they're works of enormous philosophical depth. Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row, on the other hand, are just good yarns. They're well-told slice-of-life stories, funny ones, but not a great deal else.

I've seen more than one contemporary reviewer who claimed that Steinbeck's prose was so lacking in art that his books are effectively unreadable. I don't get that at all. I'm hardly an expert, but I find his style more readable and enjoyable than, say, Hemingway's forced minimalism or Faulkner's showboating. I'm not saying that anyone who prefers those two is wrong, but I prefer Steinbeck. If that makes me pedestrian, well, it's hardly the first time that label's been applied to me.


When I tell someone that Terry Pratchett's Small Gods is one of my favorite books, the most common response is that they, too, love The God of Small Things. I've heard this often enough that I'm reading The God of Small Things now.  I'll let you know what I think when I'm done, but so far? I'm hooked.

-RK

A Night In The Woods

Well this is nice. Nicole decided that we should go camping this weekend so that’s exactly what we did. We’re extremely fortunate in that there’s a state park with overnight camping less than ten miles from downtown.  We got married here, so it also has that going for it as well.

We haven’t been camping together in the six and half years we’ve been a couple and, truth be told, I haven’t been camping in the sense that wouldn’t have a “gl” instead of a “c” in a couple of decades. No reason to let that stop us, though. What does one really need? A site, of course. A tent and some sleeping gear, some fire-safe cooking utensils, some camp chairs if you like, some clothing you don’t mind getting dirty, an ample supply of toilet paper, and you’re set, right?

Well, it turns out that several bags for trash, some additional light sources, maybe a cooler, oh, and a knife you don’t plan on cooking with are all excellent things to bring. We’ll be sure to remember those next time. We did remember to bring some less-than-primitive niceties. Nicole has been streaming Marfa public radio, we have a box fan because it is Texas in the summer. We borrowed a marvelous shady amphitheater thingie because we’re it’s really nice to have. Oh, and I have this laptop, but there’s nothing resembling an internet connection. My phone keeps stubbornly trying, but it isn’t having much luck at anything beyond “draining the battery at an alarming rate.”

It’s quiet out here, so quiet that the crickets seem loud. It’s dark enough that this dimmed screen seems blinding. There’s a raccoon that thinks he’ll sneak a meal when we aren’t being vigilant, but we have encountered raccoons before and we are prepared. You can’t scavenge for firewood here, but we brought some in (and by that I mean “purchased at the rangers’ stand) and we found a little fortune in the form of two large, pristine logs in our fire pit.  On that note, they have a nice setup here that I haven’t seen before: The fire pit adjoins the grill, so that all the fire is in one area and you can have a nice, sit-around-it-and-do-not-drink-beer-because-that-is-forbidden fire and you can shove some of the coals under the grill and cook on that.

Having good recipes for outdoor cooking and I cannot recommend the ones shown on the Almazan Kitchen YouTube channel highly enough. They post their recipes on their web site, but they’re rudimentary in that quantities are often estimated or absent and there are no instructions beyond the wordless videos. That said, I’ve tried three of their dishes now, the filet, the carbonara, and now the hunter’s steak with onion gravy, and they’ve all been successful (except for my attempt to bake my potatoes directly on the goals which went…poorly). Not only are they the most watchable relaxation/cooking videos I’ve ever seen, but I find them both informational and inspirational.

We’re relaxing after dinner now in the little clam shell tent, listening to music, stretching our legs, and enjoying each other’s company. One of the things I most appreciate about Nicole is that, when decides she wants to do it, she just does it. We’ve gone from not even talking about camping to being here in the span of a week. This trait of her is about to become really, really important…soon (cue mysterious musical flourish).

It turns out that we made a critical math error. Tent sizes tend to overestimate their dimensions, and the inverse is true with regard to air mattresses. The net of this is that our tent, which was in theory one foot longer and one foot wider than our air mattress, was neither of these things. Of course, the sides of domed tents are far from vertical, so while the mattress came close to fitting at the base, things got a little ridiculous further up. The tent door would not close.  

We attempted a partial deflation of the air mattress which is a terrible idea and I feel bad for even trying it. That left us with three option: Completely deflate the mattress and sleep close to the ground without padding, pack up and go home, or tough it out. We decided to tough it out and, while it wasn’t exactly what I would call “comfortable,” we got through the night. Sort of. The less said the better.

Pictured: Some kind of hawk

Pictured: Some kind of hawk

We woke up at dawn, as one tends to do when camping and especially when one’s tent isn’t quite up to the task. All of the tent campers started stirring around the same time. The folks in the big RVs might have been up and about, but there would be no way of knowing. I kind of doubt they were as that would defeat the purpose of having an RV. Getting up unusually early was one of the main selling points of this adventure as we wanted to do a little hiking before it got obscenely hot. Goodness knows I can use the exercise.

The trail around the park is about three miles long and they pack a lot of variety in that relatively short distance. We saw more interesting critters than I’d ever seen at the park. In addition to the raccoons (grrr), turtles, and rabbits, we saw a proper crow (as opposed to those annoying grackles), a painted bunting, a couple of cardinals, a hawk of some sort, a ringneck snake, some baby crawfish, and several cool bugs.

Oh, and we saw McKinney Falls.

Not only were we staving when we got back to camp, we were also severely coffee-deprived.It was at this time that Nicole did something amazing: She made coffee and breakfast while I tried to convince my weary bones to do something other than "sit in chair" and failed completely. In anticipation of this trip, she bought a real live, honest-to-God coffee percolator! I know, right? The magic of watching popcorn start to pop is nothing compared to watching the dome of the percolator when the water starts to boil and the liquid starts to darken. A percolator! 

A percolator! Squeeeeeee!

A percolator! Squeeeeeee!

While the coffee was percolating, she lightly fried some toast in the leftover bacon grease from the night before and then finished it on the grill. She then used the grease and the coffee to make red-eye gravy. I have to admit, I don't remember red eye gravy tasting this good, but this was the bomb. Red eye gravy, grilled rye toast, and camp coffee is a great way to start a day and end a trip. 

We took our time with breakfast and with breaking camp and we were still home by noon. We learned a few good lessons we can put to good use for next time, but there was nothing that kept us from having a great time. I turns out we're a pretty good team. What are the odds?

-RK

"Yeah I play The Red River Valley" - Father's Day 2017

Have you ever had a really bad fall, or crashed your car, or been knocked cold playing some sport? I don't know about you, but the first thing I do when my wits return is take an inventory of my body, see what is and isn't responding, checking for pain, check for numbness, and get a sense of the damage.

I always do that, but it never really works. Sometimes I'll go days or even weeks before discovering that, if I move my back just so, I'll scream like I've been shot. Maybe there'll be a bruise under my leg I didn't notice. Or I'll bump into a corner and discover, painfully, that I've fractured the end of my elbow.

That's my metaphor of choice for dealing with my father's passing earlier this year.  I expected it to hurt, and it does, but it keeps catching me by surprise. My first reaction to each of the surprisingly numerous emails encouraging me to buy a Father's Day gift is "fuck you." I didn't know how many of those there were, but damn, they're everywhere, aren't they?

Stores loaded with Father's Day cards are almost as bad. 

Today? Well, you know, the day itself is...maybe because I've been bracing myself, I feel less "Oh my god, why is the world still turning, does it not realize that he's gone?" than I'd expected. Or maybe it's more because Father's Day was never a big deal to do. My memories of him have nothing whatsoever to do with Father's Day.

I'm fortunate in that I had a father who liked to do things. He let me shift the gears on his car (a 64 1/2 Mustang) while he'd drink a Budweiser, which perfectly legal at the time. He'd take me to baseball games, and play catch with me, and go fishing, and take me to movies, and read with me, and help teach me math, and go on vacations, and he'd eat food he hated because he didn't want for his kids to hate it without trying it first and...well, it's a pretty long list. Those are memories. Not Father's Day. Not really.

Funny thing: At our fantasy baseball spring meeting (we have a serious league), there was a photo of my father at the front of the room. The picture was taken decades before anyone in the league other than his friend Norm and myself had known him. It was an outdoor photo of my dad in his late "outlaw country" phase; felt cowboy hat, leather, western cut jacket, western shirt, mustache of the push broom variety, and a big, toothy smile on his face. Our commissioner commented that he had "no idea who the hell that guy was." 

I knew him. He was awfully happy then. I can't place the date, but he was probably recently remarried, early forties, and in one of the best times of his life. I would probably have been late teens, early twenties at the latest, and I'm pretty sure that we had some issues between us because, well, if you've ever met a teenage boy, you probably understand. But in hindsight? I really liked that version of him.

So,  I'm not going to say today was great, but it's an occasion to remember all the good things, to enjoy his memory. I miss you, dad. Thank you for pretty much everything.

-RK

Living in the Kingdom of Fear

As I mentioned earlier, I just finished reading Hunter S. Thompson's Kingdom of Fear. It's nowhere near Thompson's best work, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more relevant writer in what I suspect will be regarded as the American interregnum. The 2016 election exposed many flaws in our of democracy, the most glaring of which was that our entire system is designed to present two candidates as de facto equals. The system doesn't have a mechanism to cope with a candidate who isn't at least minimally qualified. The press falls over itself to create a scaffold for this candidate with legitimacy in order to maintain an air of journalist objectivity.

Dr. Thompson wouldn't have played that game. He would never let objectivity get in the way of telling the truth. That was his greatest virtue, and it's one we desperately need now. He wouldn't have allowed the mythical "respect for the office" from letting the president have it with both barrels and then reloading. The phrase "This is not normal" is true, and it's worth remembering, but "He is an ignorant, foolish monster would destroy us all if not for his own incompetence," has a nice ring to it as well.

The book itself is a bit of a mess; it meanders from an unlikely story to an obvious fabrication to an incredibly on-point criticism, but it never fails to be entertaining. I doubt there will ever be another Hunter S. Thompson* no matter how badly we need one. The lesson, however, remains: 

“So much for Objective Journalism. Don't bother to look for it here--not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”

 

 

 

 

 

* And no, Spider Jersualem doesn't count.

 

 

 
 

* And no, Spider Jersualem doesn't count.   

 

 

 

 

 

There again and back again - a few days in Marfa

Note: We recently returned from a vacation in Marfa, Texas. The internet is like water in this part of the country, in that it's scarce, moves slowly, and is probably full of hidden stuff that will try to kill you. Ergo, I wrote this while we stayed out there as sort of a diary of our stay. I had more wine and beer than I normally do, and you'll probably be able to tell which parts were written under their influence as I'm leaving them in. 

Wednesay

Wednesday morning in Marfa. It’s still cool in the shade, but that’s not going to be the case for much. I’m watching a kid chase a rabbit across the campground and hoping he trips and falls into a cactus or an ant hill.  

Didn’t happen; justice is denied.  

People in brightly-colored robes are emerging from most of the trailers. Most of the showers here are outdoor, some are communal. Some of ‘em are taking drags off of what are undoubtedly hand-rolled conventional tobacco cigarettes. Some are frantically packing their gear and hauling it out to the parking lot. Normal campground rhythms, if you’ve ever been to a campground.  

Marfa is in the middle of nowhere, but its a particularly elevated nowhere. The high plains of west Texas are over four thousand feet above sea level. The air is dry and clean and not quite as oxygen rich as I’m accustomed to. There’s a good breeze, and we’d best enjoy it while we can because it’ll be still by mid-afternoon.  

We’re moving slowly the morning, having dined like royalty on filet and mushroom grilled and cheap but delicious tempranillo. I no longer have the prodigious tolerance for alcohol I possessed in my youth, and recovery takes a little longer than it used to (although it is also a more certain and complete recovery as my wizened brain knows how to mitigate hangovers in ways my younger self could only dream of).  

Out here, technology is garbage. My phone is in roaming and never stops alerting me to that fact. It turns out that Sprint’s unlimited data plan does not cover unlimited roaming, so my phone is just a camera for me right now. My Chromebook has all the capabilities you’d expect of Chrome in offline mode, which is to say. It's barely a typewriter.  

It's a nice desk, though.

It's a nice desk, though.

But that’s what we came out here for, isn’t it? Getting away from it all may be a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its virtues. There’s a difference between ignoring frantic calls from your office and literally not being able to receive them. I’m tempted to set my phone to forward to one of the many bill collectors on my ignore list, but my karma’s bad enough as it is  

It’s mid-afternoon now. We had a late breakfast at Marfa Burrito, and we’re feeling a little heavy again. Marfa Burrito is a must, unspoiled by tourism, cash only, and no English spoken. I suspect the ladies working behind the counter understand English just fine, but in their home, you’re going to speak their language. It’s absolutely worth the effort. For five dollars, you get one of the purest expressions of “burrito” you’ll ever experience.  

We walked around the square and sat in front of the courthouse on benches donated by the Marfa rotary club. The birds around here are marvelous mimics. A dove does a convincing impression of an owl and there’s a grackle singing in a decidedly non-grackle-like voice. Most of the folks walking out of the courthouse seem happy. I’d wager there’s a marriage license or two in the plain manila folders they’re carrying.  

We're back at our home for the week, the Battleship, a 1950s Spartan trailer with more space some apartments I’ve rented. It’s where we spent the first night of our honeymoon and the folks at El Cosmico left us some prosecco on ice because, while this is camping, it’s the most painstakingly curated camping experience I’m aware of. What they’ve done is remove all the parts of camping that make it "real" but also make it "suck." We can enjoy the good bits while the staff here does all the heavy lifting. It’s a fine tradeoff.  

It may feel like a trivial thing, but sleeping in the middle of a hot day with a wall-mounted air conditioner on full blast is glorious. The room never gets really cold, but everything the blasts of air touch is chilly and delightful. It’s a sensation you can never get from central air, and it may just be the nostalgia of it that appeals to me, but I haven’t felt this relaxed after a nap in ages.  

The local public radio station, 93.5, sounds like it’s coming in on an AM from somewhere else in space and time, has renewed my love of public radio. I listen to public radio at home, especially the music-only station,  

Maybe it’s because Father’s Day is coming up, but I can’t help but think of my dad when I’m out here. He brought us out to Big Bend, which is just a couple hours down the road, several times when I was a kid. In his thirties and forties he threw down a very “outlaw country” vibe. He wore Western cut suits, listened to Waylon and Willie and most especially Jerry Jeff, and developed a taste for tequila. You had to squint a little to get it, but the look worked for him. He’d have loved El Cosmico, or at least;,the version of him from the mid-seventies sure would have. Just another thing about me that I belatedly inherited from him, a thought which makes
me smile.  

Tonight, I made marinated lamb kebabs that were an unmitigated failure. The marinade gave them a gritty texture that we attempted to remove by paper towel and even rinsing. The result of this reclamation effort was to remove the flavor while leaving the texture. As Willie said to the youngster, “They can’t all be winners, kid.” On the plus side, grilling pear quarters was a noteworthy success. We will never again speak of the lamb.  

Thursday  

Slept remarkably well last night even though I had dreams about traveling with my father. The word is “melancholy.” Dude was a good traveler, though, and a ace traveling companion. Those two  don’t always go hand in hand.  

The got the day started with a camp fire, some bacon, and some of Nicole’s otherworldly blueberry pancakes. There’s frying, and then there’s _frying,_ and those pancakes were fried in hot, fresh bacon grease. Because they were on the thick side, she could get a good, crispy outside without drying out the center. It was a lot of work, but they were probably the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  

I got some of the free coffee from the main building. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s no lack of free coffee in this town. Marfa Burrito doesn’t charge for theirs either. Unfortunately, I failed to affix to the lid to the cup and poured the majority of the cup directly on to my shirt. Those coffee lids are not to be trusted.  

Marfa radio is keeping up their end of the bargain. We just heard the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and now Townes Van Zandt is singing “Pancho and Lefty” and everything is absolutely right with the world. Nicole’s adding to her art and…oh my, is that Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron?” It is! Dear God, I’m going to have to leave this place and the injustice of that is going to weigh heavily on me.  

Last night, while I was waiting for the coals to catch, I was close enough to a group of young professionals to catch snippets of their conversation. The guys in one huddle discussing their experiences and theories of professional life, while the segregated women talked travel. It reminded me of a conversation I had with one of the folks on the site who expressed something between frustrating, and disbelief that people would drive so far to come out here in the middle of nowhere and just bring their lives with them. Seems to defeat the purpose, but to each their own.  

Finally finished the book I’ve been reading, Hunter Thompson’s Kingdom of Fear. Thompson’s funny as hell and his gift for exposing the hypocrisy and downright evil of authority is well documented, but it almost feels as though 2017 has rendered him a little quaint. The hyperbolic descriptions of presidents past don’t come close to matching what decidedly less gonzo journalists are reporting about the current administration. On a related note, I understand that there are big happenings regarding the President today. I trust folks will update me if I missed anything interesting.  

We’re about to head out to Marathon (that “o” is pronounced like a schwa if the soothing voice on the radio is to be trusted) via Alpine. I’ve been to Marathon before, but it’s been forty years, so my memories are non-existent. I just want a decent western wallet as I feel myself going native.  

Well, we didn’t make it to Marathon. We hit some rain in Alpine and decided to stop there and poke around. It’s a surprisingly nice looking little town. The downtown is in better shape than most of the old Texas small towns, but there was a vibe to it, something a little off. We saw some unique southwestern cactus pottery that we were on the fence for buying, but we passed. Fortunately, the potter is from Austin, so we shouldn’t have difficulty tracking him down if the mood strikes.  

Nothing fancy for dinner tonight. We’re grilling burgers with green chiles and oh look! There’s some leftover bacon from this morning. Huzzah! We’ll have gone through three bags of charcoal when this is over which says something about our pent-up grill lust. This whole trip is giving us some “own our own place” lust. That’s an unfortunate kink to have if you’re living in Austin. Owning a home inside the loop-I-just-made-up-and-is-totally-not-a-thing* is to win the lottery or live within ones means and no betting man would touch either of those propositions.  

View from the hammocks. Unrelated to the current discussion, but I like the image.

View from the hammocks. Unrelated to the current discussion, but I like the image.

I know I keep harping on the radio here, but the DJ has a mean streak. He’s been playing protest songs all day, and I assume that the timing is not a coincidence. Well played, 93.5, well played.  

Met some nice folks when prepping for dinner. A young couple driving from California to the other side of the country via the southwest were making s’mores, minus the graham crackers and chocolate. Their marshmallow roasting was excellent. The man looked so much like a young Luke Wilson it was a little disconcerting, but he was a nice guy and he’d made some good decisions I wouldn’t have had the gumption to make at his age. They’d recently been to Zion and the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe.  

There was another gentleman, old Austin if I’m any judge, who had some good thoughts on where to get decent tacos off the beaten path. Nice folks out here. I haven’t exchanged words with anyone who rubbed me the wrong way. He cooked up some fajitas while I was grilling the burgers Nicole put together. They looked professionally made, but they tasted much better than that. You really can’t beat grilled burgers with green chiles and bacon. Even cheese would have been overkill on this burger.  

As the sun went down, we heard a band playing next to the big building and wandered over to check them out. Adult Mom are a four-piece from New York with what sounded to me like a Safari-era Breeders influence. I can’t imagine they’d played many venues like this and I hope they enjoyed it, even with the sudden invasion of dogs.  

Every band dreams of a stage hammock.

Every band dreams of a stage hammock.

We’re heading back home tomorrow, probably pretty early. Right now, with the travel day still a full sunrise away, we’re planning on taking the scenic southern route through Marathon and Del Rio, but "best-laid plans" and all.  

I sent out postcards earlier today. I have a thing about sending written correspondence when I’m traveling. Part of it is the semi-exotic postmarks on the cards and letters, but it also just seems easier to write to people when there are fewer distractions. That suggests some failing on my part in terms of priorities when  I’m not vacationing, but I’d rather not think of it that way.  

Friday  

I don't have much to say about the drive home, except for this: If you get the chance to take US 90 between Marathon and Del Rio, you'll be richly rewarded.  

The rest of the drive is garbage. Turning left in Del Rio to head to San Antonio, the desert suddenly becomes something that wouldn't look out of place in central  Oklahoma. Don't bother.  

All told, it was a fantastic vacation. It's only rival in my experience is our honeymoon which, coincidentally, also featured driving all over the desert and staying in Marfa. This has caused a plan to form in our brains, a plan aimed at a very specific goal. Back at home, and at work, it's nice, maybe even critical, to have something to look forward to.

-RK

  * Mopac/183/35/71. 

 

The end has to be nigh, doesn't it?

Note: I'm writing this on phone somewhere between junction and Fort Stockton on I 10. There will be errors. Also, there's lot of Donald Trump. You are warned.

 

It may look as though I haven't written anything in a while but that isn't true. I've written three long posts, totalling close to six thousand words, about the increasingly likely end of the Trump administration. I haven't posted and of them because events are moving so quickly toward that end that I can't keep up, and damned if I can write about anything else until I get this out of my head.

So here it is, in greatly shortened form and minus the Hunter Thompson-influenced but from the second draft: I think it's almost certain that the Trump administration won't last the full four years. Even without the mounting evidence of coordination between his campaign and Russian meddlers, there's more than enough out there for Congress to remove him when they choose to do so. 

My best guess is that the plan was to do so prior to the 2018 elections. Trump is so deeply unpopular that his removal by a Congress headed by his own party would be a huge boon for the Republicans running for re-election. The timeline may be pushed forward as the party will want him out of office before the Russia investigation bears any fruit and threatens to expand beyond the White House.

Honestly, there isn't much left of the Trump presidency in any meaningful sense. He failed to assert leadership in his first hundred days, leaving the Capitol with his tail between his legs and no legislative achievements. He's abandoned leadership in trade to China in the Pacific rim and ceded leadership to Germany and France in Europe. We've reached the point where the White House had to release statements saying that the president's tweets do not reflect his positions or policies. He is, by a wide margin, the weakest and most interesting president in my memory (and I remember the Ford adminstration.)

Believe it or not, that's the short version. It felt good to get that out and finally been done with it. Now I can enjoy my vacation in Marfa. I won't even be able to watch Comey's testimony on Thursday, and man, I can't tell you good that feels. 

-RK

 

 

Why it's wrong to joke about threatening to shoot people (and other reasons Greg Abbott is not getting a Christmas card from me this year)

You may or may not have heard that Texas governor Greg Abbott went to the shooting range and made a joke about using his prowess with a gun to intimidate the press:

Abbott proved a good shot and, proudly displaying the target showing his marksmanship, the governor joked, according to the Texas Tribune reporter and photographer who were within earshot, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”

Ha ha. The governor's Mike Huckabee-esque sense of humor didn't play well in the press (go figure), but some folks thought it was fake outrage since it was, you know, "just a joke." Texas Monthly even went so far as to waste some virtual ink publishing a think piece headlined "Panicking Over Paper Cuts - The hysteria over Governor Greg Abbott’s joke at a gun range is ridiculous." 

I'm not going to pretend that Abbott's joke was anything but a joke, but that doesn't mean it's the sort of joke the governor of Texas should be making. What if, instead of "reporters," Abbott had joked about threatening "women," or "Mexicans," or "queers," or "blacks?" Instead of Abbott making the joke, what if Obama had proudly displayed his shooting target and said "I'm gonna carry this around in case I see any Christians?" 

It's exactly the same joke. If you don't see any problem with these variations, then so be it. If, however, you're fine with what Abbott said but you're upset or offended by the others, then you're not ok with the joke; you're just ok with the target.

EDIT: Just in case you haven't been paying attention, reporters have been under attack from politicians all over the country. Their crime? Doing their constitutionally-protected job. 


It really says something about Abbott that I can write about another incredibly stupid thing he's said and still not address his frankly awful positions on women's health and sanctuary cities. No, I'll leave those for another time. Instead, I'd like to take a moment to react to his inserting himself into the dispute between Austin and the big ride-sharing companies, Lyft and Uber.

If you're not familiar with the history of the dispute, I'll give you the short version: Lyft and Uber prefer to operate in markets where they don't have to play by the same rules as cab companies, so they attempt to get local laws changed in their favor so they have a built-in competitive advantage.

In Austin, they wanted to use less-expensive methods of vetting their drivers instead of the fingerprint check required for cabs. So, they spent a crazy amount of money to get an initiative on the local ballot to carve out an exception for themselves. Despite having stacked the deck in their favor by having a confusingly-worded ballot question, having the election on a weekday, and being the only initiative on the ballot (not to mention running absurdly misleading ads), their exemption went down in flames.

So they left. They weren't forced to leave. They decided to punish the city for not giving them regulatory advantages over the competition.

But they weren't done with Austin, oh no. They decided to go over the city's head and get a state law passed that would force Austin to give in to their demands. And, today, Governor Greg Abbott signed this law, and in doing so, stated: 

Today I signed a law to overturn the City of Austin’s regulation that trampled freedom and free enterprise.

He went on to say:

"What today really is is a celebration of freedom and free enterprise," Abbott said during a signing ceremony. "This is freedom for every Texan — especially those who live in the Austin area — to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation."

I'm not sure this qualifies as "Orwellian," but it's certainly a bald-faced lie. Greg Abbott is doing exactly what Republicans say they don't want government to do: He's picking a winner instead of letting the market sort it out. He just signed in to law a preferred status for ride share companies. Uber and Lyft wanted to change the rules to ensure they won, and Abbott was only too happy to help them.

The "why" of it is up for debate. Uber in particular is a particularly odious company with a history of not paying the non-employees and of treating women badly, so it could be that he just sees in them a kindred spirit. Abbott is also reliably against anything Austin, so it could just be an act of spite. The sad thing is that these are the two least-nefarious explanations I can think of for his going against everything conservatives supposedly stand for.

Not exactly rage, but perhaps shaking one's fist a little

I just finished reading Dying Light by Donald Griswold and it's been a long time since I've been so conflicted about a book. Griswold's a fine writer whose prose is polished and he gives his characters more life than many novelists, particularly the characters on the periphery of the story. I think he's got a terrific novel in him, but Dying Light is not that novel.

At its core, Dying Light is a fairly conventional redemption story. I'm not giving anything away by saying this as it's perfectly obvious from the first few chapters that we're looking at a successful, unhappy asshole who's going to Learn An Important Lesson and come out a better man at the end. For my money, I think the change came too late in the story, and occurred too abruptly and completely. You know it's coming, but when it comes, it occurs almost literally overnight and it's such a complete change that the willing suspension of disbelief is severely tested. It's a serious pacing problem, and it makes the final third of the book feel rushed and unconvincing.

My larger issue may be one of taste, but it impaired my enjoyment of the book to the point where I nearly didn't finish reading it. Griswold does such a good job of painting the point of view character as the kind of jerk who is proud of all the things that make him unbearable that I found myself wishing something awful would happen to him (the character, not Griswold). Benjamin is utterly devoid of empathy (until he suddenly isn't) and living inside the mind of someone who doesn't give a shit about anyone else is painful regardless of how well-written the story is.  

Griswold does characters well. He manages to transform the Lisa character from a mere plot device into a well-rounded and interesting plot device. The world his characters move around in is real (it helps that I'm very familiar with many of the locations) and some of the side characters are a great deal of fun. There's a lot of good stuff in Dying Light, but the payoff isn't enough to make up for the fact that we spend a couple of hundred pages seeing the world through the eyes of Benjamin. I know guys like him, and man, I want to spend as little time with them and possible.

-RK

P.S. The image at the top of the screen doesn't really relate to the post, but I loved the caption so much I had to use it somewhere.

Notes from a fondue picnic

When shopping with Nicole a while back, I saw a fondue pot and commented that it reminded me of my favorite childhood dinner. Things progressed quickly from there and we wound up treating my mum to a Mother's Day dinner at the World's Tiniest AirBnB. Or rather, we had the dinner on the patio because it turns out that the World's Tiniest AirBnB plus a hot oil fondue equals a a very persistent fire alarm. 

Anyway, it was a lovely night for it and I think mom enjoyed it almost as much as I did (it was my favorite childhood meal, after all). Mom is taking her health seriously and she was looking quite a bit more spry than when last I saw her. It was one of the nicest evening we've had with her in a long time, followed by what was one of the worst sleeping experiences I've ever had.

The World's Tiniest AirBnB was stocked with scented trash bags, and a couple of those in 300 square feet is a little overwhelming. The bed room had a 4 foot ceiling, a disastrous mattress, step, slippery stairs, and no night light. Oh, and there was no door on the bathroom.

We did learn a few things in the process:

1) Mushrooms work great in a hot oil fondue. They'd probably be good in cheese fondue, too. Heck, I wouldn't be shocked if they were good in chocolate. 

2) Chromebooks tether to Android phones over USB easily, which probably shouldn't have been a surprise. No drivers to load, no third-party programs, just hook 'em up and go.

3) Even good grocery stores have garbage tortilla ships. If you live within driving distance of an El Fenix, they're your best option. If not, they're still your best option.

4) There are people out there who steal basil plants off of people's porches. I know, right? I didn't think those people existed, but we returned home to find our basil plant, pot and all, had been taken from our porch while we were away. No other plant was touched. Weird, huh?

All in all, I don't think I've enjoyed visiting my mother so much in quite some time. She keeps saying she's going to come down here to visit I have a stack of places I'd love to take her but, in my heart of hearts, I know she'll want to go to the seafood restaurant shaped like a tugboat because of course she will. 

-RK

Smart Baseball: S-M-R-T

A little disclosure here before I write about Keith Law's new book, Smart Baseball: I spent several years in the shallow end of the pool of baseball statistical analysis. I worked for one team for a short time, did a little writing for the trade magazines, and a few other odd jobs in the business. I'm wasn't an insider but I knew a lot of insiders and man, I wish this book had been available back in the day. It was a lot of fun, but man, reading this book, old hedge wizards like myself would be thoroughly out of our depth in today's game. And honestly? That's pretty cool


Keith Law's Smart Baseball is simply the best baseball book I've read this century. It's clear, rational, funny, and extremely interesting. There are so many wrong turns Law could have taken here; he could have been pedantic or smug or delved so deeply into the technical aspects of baseball's information revolution that it would have rendered the book impenetrable. Instead, it's accessible and informative and a lot of fun to read. If you want to understand the relationship between baseball and baseball statistical analysis, this is the book.

Smart Baseball is broken into three sections. The first concerns traditional baseball statistics and how they present a distorted image of value. It's one thing to say that saves are a terrible stat, but Law presents a compelling case* backed up by just enough data to demonstrate his point. It's bad enough that awards were (and are) given to the wrong players based on reliance on flawed numbers, but teams were making decisions based on bad data, and these decisions were costing teams money and wins.

The middle part of the book is devoted to the current state of the art, the result of the revolution started by Bill James and Pete Palmer and their ilk. The early stat guys, "SABRmatricians," were the ones who questioned the conventional wisdom of baseball and developed mathematical tools to better measure the value of players and strategies. The impact of their work cannot be understated. By the late nineties, more teams than not were making use of advanced stats. And now? Everyone's doing it, and unlike the self-taught enthusiasts of the the turn of the century, today's teams have full analytics departments and proprietary systems for parsing the numbers.

The last section covers the baseball equivalent of the singularity: Major League Baseball's StatCast. The amount of data produced by the in-stadium radar systems, ranging from the relatively simply stuff like "how hard each ball is hit" to near-magical measurements of the spin on a pitch to...who knows? There's more information in there than anyone really knows what to do with yet. Rather than examining existing data with increasingly finer-toothed combs, StatCast opens up a whole new world of data and there's an arms race trying to make sense of it.

It's the "making sense of it" that's the key and makes the whole store so compelling. Anyone can generate statistics; the trick is understanding what they mean and making informed decisions based on that understanding. Law's book is by far the best explanation of the story of how analysis has changed the game for the better that I've ever encountered. 

-RK

 

* Not that this is a terribly difficult case to make when you're talking about saves...

Speaking of Unspeakable Things

It's been quite a week. I can't remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter for work. I mean that literally; there's something about staying up all night and going to work the next day that isn't conducive to remembering things very clearly. I'm a little surprised I'm still chugging along, although "chugging" might be overstating the case at this point.

Anyway...

I just finished reading Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things.  Penny writes best when she's got some anger behind her eyes and Unspeakable Things finds her in fine, trenchant form. There's something in the book to make any reader uncomfortable; she covers a broad range of what can be loosely grouped as "abuses of power and how those abuses affect people and especially women, people of color, and the queer community. Don't mistake it for a book of feminist man-bashing; Penny has no time anything so cheap.

That's not to say that anyone who has benefited from the privileges of their birth is let off the hook. Unspeakable Things doesn't shy away from turning on the bright interrogation lights and holding up a mirror to people who allow injustice to stand just because it doesn't hurt them in any personal sense. 

Books about now are tough. It's difficult to write about things that still in the process of becoming history. Knowing how things play out makes it a lot easier to construct a narrative, and once the winners and losers have been sorted out, the passion of the heat of the battle is lost. Writing about now tends to be hyperbolic because it's writing about a fulcrum and the writer often has a strong interest in the balance swinging one way or the other. There's some of that in Unspeakable Things, but Penny tempers her righteous anger with deeply personal stories and dry-approaching-gallows humor. 

In the end, it's tale from the front of battles that have not yet been decided. I can understand why some people wouldn't like it, but it's not a book that was written to be liked. 

-RK

P.S. Nicole just put "Under the Sea" on and now it's thoroughly lodged in my noggin. I think I could use a little sleep, huh?

 

 

What's up? The weather! How do I know?

Because I've been under it.

Getting over a cold reminds of those dystopian stories where everything is grey, no one feels any emotions, and everyone walks like a robot. Are those a thing? I could just be imagining it, but anyway, that's what it feels like. I have no energy to do anything, even to get properly angry. I can't taste anything, I have no enthusiasm for anything. I'm not even miserable; I just don't care, or even the energy to care.

Now, the good part is that Nicole is a grade A, Olympic-class pamperer-of-the-sick. When I'd get home from work (colds make you almost bad enough to miss work), I'd have a little nest of comfort on the sofa waiting for me. Frozen delightful treats await me in the freezer, multitudinous beverages are in the fridge, and a nice hot bath has been run. It's not quite enough to make me look forward to getting sick, but as far as silver linings go, it ain't bad.

Sitting inert on the sofa has given me an unfortunate amount of time to binge-stream Seinfeld. I saw "unfortunate" because the show hasn't aged particularly well in some respects. The laugh track doesn't do the show any favors, there's more yelling that there should be, Kramer is more "wacky" than "funny" most of the time, and the idea that papayas are too zany for normal people to eat was dated twenty years ago.

Where the show continues to shine is when the four main characters are torturing each other. The glee with which they twist the knife into each other's backs is a delight, and no one is better at it Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  Watching her grin while she's making Jerry squirm makes me laugh every time. Her Elaine brings more energy to the show than the rest of the cast combined. I didn't appreciate what she brought to the table when the show was in its original run. 

 

The "Libertarian Tip" thing isn't just illegal; it's also kind of dumb

I'm sure you've seen the "How A Libertarian Tips" image making the rounds on this world wide web, but if not, here ya go:

 

Let's get the obvious out of the way here: This statement in no way relieves a server of the obligation to report this money as a tip. The intent may be good, sort of, but the libertarian is inviting the server to just ask for an audit. It turns out there are no simple tax loopholes, regardless of what libertarians might tell you.

However, if you were to try this dodge (which I do not recommend), there are a couple of problems with the execution as depicted above. The most obvious one is that writing "Taxation is theft" on the tip line is an invitation to further investigation. If you want to make it look as though you aren't leaving a tip, it would be smarter to just write "0.00" on the line, or, if you absolutely must embellish the scam, write "bad service" or something that doesn't make it obvious that your'e trying assist the server in avoiding paying taxes.

The second problem is a bit more arcane, but bear with me. I have a lot of experience with IRS reporting with regards to tipping. One of the things that the IRS looks at when trying to determine if a server is under-reporting their tips is the difference between their average tip percentage on credit cards versus their declared average tip percentage for cash. If a server is making 20% tips on credit cards but they're only declaring 5% for cash, that's a red flag. Any gap larger than 3 percentage points will get you some raised eyebrows. 

Here's where it gets tricky: The sale is classified not by how the guest paid for the transaction, but by how they tipped. By leaving no tip on a credit card sale, that sale now goes into the "cash" side of the equation. If you insist on trying to pull a fast one on the IRS (and really, please don't put a server in that position), leave $0.01 as the tip and then the rest as cash. That will lower the server's overall tip percentage on the credit card side and thus the percentage of declared cash tips that will look suspicious to an auditor.

However, let's end this with a big ol' bummer: There is no magical "minimum percentage" a server can declare that will keep them on the good side of an IRS audit. The law is that you have to declare 100% of your tips. There's no loophole. I get that taxes suck, but please don't be tricked into thinking that calling tips a "gift" will magically get you out of paying them.

Dear Revolution,

Given the current state of affairs at 1600 Pennsylvania, it's not surprising that there's a lot of talk about revolution in the air. How can the left rebuild itself from the wreckage of the 2016 election? I've heard some good ideas, I've heard a few great ones, but I've heard one very bad idea over and over: "The revolutions needs to focus on fixing the structure of the economy and not get bogged down by distractions like abortion or bathrooms or BLM."

Any leftist movement worthy of the name includes radical social justice as a top priority from day one. I am appalled by how many people I know who think that these "lesser issues" can wait until the big work is done.

If the pitch to women, to people of color, and to the LGBT community is "Help us fix the problems that we think are important first, and then we will take a look at your issues," why would anyone believe that? If you're saying that social justice issues are distractions, you have already sent a pretty clear message that you don't think these concerns are important. 

If that's your idea of a revolution, you can leave me out. 

P.S. I read this after writing this post. It's a description of a Democratic event that ran up against pretty much exactly what I'm talking about:

“This is very raw,” said Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, conceding that “after the presidential election, there is still this ongoing debate about identity politics versus economic opportunity.”

I don't agree with the phrasing, and I certainly don't agree with the idea that the two are, or even can be, mutually exclusive. A system that is economically unjust is going to be socially unjust, and a system that's socially unjust is going to be economically unjust. We're adult human beings; we can focus on two things at once. 

I dare someone to make a musical version of The Trial

Friday was a holiday at my office. I spent the day reading Kafka's The Trial and assisting an employee I'd never met at a company I didn't know I supported upgrading software I'd never heard of. Life, it seems, has a dark sense of humor.

The Trial is a fascinating book. Kafka is unmatched when it comes to creating a suffocating, paranoid atmosphere. The entire novel feels like being stuck in a crowded room with no ventilation waiting in a line that never moves. First and foremost it's a critique of bureaucracies in a totalitarian society, but there's a good deal more going on. Every new character undermines the protagonist's (and reader's) understanding of what's going on. There's a religious allegory in there as well as no small amount of self-criticism and questioning whether or not the victim is really a victim at all or is rather complicit in his own imprisonment.

Which is all to say that it's a genuinely fascinating piece of literature that's also a terrific read. It's not what I would describe as "fun" but c'mon, who's reading Kafka for laughs?

I genuinely do not want to know the answer to that question. 

RKQ&A 3

Since I follow The Onion's AV Club on Facebook, I see their Q&A feature pop up in my feed on a regular basis. They're the sort of writing prompts I can't resist and I'm not going to let the fact that I'm not technically (meaning "in any sense") in the AV Club prevent me from offering up my answers to their questions. 

This is the third one I've done. Here's the first, and here's the second. There are going to be more, so let that be your warning.


What fictional animal's death affected you the most?

There were some good selections in the AV Club's list, with Futurama's Seymour Asses at the top of the list. However, I believe that the only way someone wouldn't chose Pirate the rabbit from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's WE3 would be if they haven't read the book.  I'll be honest-I'm tearing up thinking about it right now. All of the animals in the book live in uncanny valley where their personalities are both affecting and deeply disturbing, They're able to express awareness of their situations and their actions in a way that's just close enough to believable to get under the reader's skin.

So, when Pirate finds himself in a hopeless situation, he knows it, and he acts in the only possible way that he can to make his demise meaningful. It's utterly heartbreaking, but it is not in vain. Just a page or so later, Morrison and Quitely give the readers what I believe is the single greatest panel in comic book history. I wont' say what it is, but I guarantee you'll know it when you see it...especially if you've read The Dark Knight Returns.

What's the worst movie you ever saw in a theater?

The writers for the AV Club avoided the films that were never conceived as anything more than schlock, so I'll do the same. Besides, as someone who saw Robot Jox, Spice World, and Tank Girl on the day they were released, I genuinely enjoy that kind of film. Heck, I even liked Mortal Kombat. So really, the question isn't what was the "worst" move so much as the "most disappointing" or even "the one you hated the most." 

I have many, many candidates to chose from, but in terms of "falling a mile short of expectations," it's hard to top The Blair Witch Project. I saw it in a packed theater at the height of the hype,  but as soon as the film started, the energy just drained out of the room. It wasn't just me; no one in the theater was buying in to it. It wasn't fun, it wasn't interesting, and it most definitely wasn't scary.

When it ended and the lights went up, the room was completely silent. Finally, a guy a few rows in front of me blurted out "Well that was kinda stupid." Everyone burst out laughing. It was, by a wide margin, the most enjoyable part of the film.

Who is your favorite "unlikable" character?

Pretty much every character on "Arrested Development" was unlikable, and I'm sorely tempted to select Lucille, but in the end, it really has to be GOB, doesn't it?  His combination of insecurity and confidence, utterly unencumbered by self-awareness may not be completely unique, but Will Arnett played him with such an aggressive brittleness that you almost felt for him. Of course, every time you let your guard down, he'd demonstrate why he would never be the protagonist in any story, even his own. 

What song is inextricably linked to a film or TV show for you?

Back when I worked in a record store, my manager played The Big Chill soundtrack no less than three times a day, every day. Because of this, I will probably always cringe when I hear any Motown standard. That soundtrack gave us those awful montages of white people in khakis drinking wine and have a suspiciously jolly time drinking blush wine and listening to "Mustang Sally." 

But...man, the opening scene played against the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is kind of spectacular. It's exactly the sort of match of mood to music that Wes Anderson does so well. The songs' epic, orchestral embrace of disappointment and settling for "good enough" suits the movie's themes perfectly. If the rest of the film had been as good as the opening credits, it would be a considered a classic. 

Which actor is so good, you'd watch them in anything?

No long intro for this one: Hugo Weaving, all day, every day. I genuinely wonder if The Matrix would have worked without Weaving's incredible Agent Smith. Watching him snarl "Mr. Anderson" gives me the jibblies every time. It could easily have been a nothing role and Weaving made it unforgettable. 

I have a little rule of thumb for declaring someone a "great actor:" If they play a key role in three great films, they're probably great themselves. It's not a perfect method, but it's not a bad quick-and-dirty test. Weaving's work in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and of course, Babe would put him in the club even without The Matrix. He's always worth watching, even when the movie isn't.

 

Recent Reads: A Race of Minds & 5000-1 The Leicester City Story


I gave in to my inner Anglophile last week and read a couple of British books which otherwise have absolutely nothing in common. The first was A Race of Minds by Simon Horrocks. If it doesn't exist in cyberpunk-land, you can at least see it from there. It's a page turner that doesn't come across as deeply weird until you catch your breath and look back on it. The main character is in a coma for the entire novel, although that limits her participation less than you might imagine. There's a good deal of messing about with memory so that, not only is the reader not always certain which side a character is on, sometimes the characters themselves aren't sure of their own place on the board. 

At first I struggled a little to keep up with which characters were which. In the tradition of William Gibson, the reader is expected to pick it up as they go, a technique which contributes to sense of breakneck pace. Speaking of pace, I'd be remiss if I didn't give Mr. Horrocks credit for finding a neat workaround for the "ticking clock" trope. You know the one: An arbitrary deadline which forces the pace when there's otherwise no reason to get X done within twenty four hours. It can be a bomb (obviously), a ransomer's deadline, or "this potion only lasts for one hour!" There's a countdown in A Race of Minds, but handled differently and, I'd say, better.

So, I enjoyed A Race of Minds. It is, however, more of an episode than a complete novel. The ending wouldn't be particularly satisfying if that were The End, but it clearly isn't. The deeper I got into the book, the more I liked it, so it was a little jarring to land on what amounted to a "tune in next week!" Which, of course, I will be doing.

P.S. I haven't read Volume 0 of Horrocks' "Kosmos" series and now I'm thinking perhaps I ought to have done so. If you're interested in reading this book, it's probably a good idea to go back to the introductory volume, huh?


5000-1 The Leicester City Story is Rob Tanner's account of Leicester City football club's miraculous 2015/16 championship season. I was a little surprised to see this book in a local book store, and as such I felt a moral obligation to buy it. I can recite the high points of the Foxes' year by heart, but Tanner, who write for the Leicester Mercury, somehow turned a story I knew by heart into a riveting tale all over ago. 

All of the matches receive a writeup, and there are multiple stories filling in the backgrounds and personalities of the key City players. I'll admit to a massive, massive bias, but reliving those matches, especially the comebacks, made me grin like a loony. In retrospect, the stories about Claudio Ranieri, City's manager last year, are bittersweet given his sacking a few months ago. He was, and remains, a very classy man and I'm gutted that he was let go regardless of the fact that it seems to have been a necessary move.

If you're underwhelmed by the quality of writing in American sports, you'll be pleasantly surprised by Tanner's work. He's a fine writer who avoids the cliched hyperbole you see in so many sports-related books. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he has a novel or two in him. This is a better-than-expected recounting of what is arguably the greatest upset in sporting history. If you're in to that sort of thing, it's a fine read. If you're a Leicester City fan, it's scripture.

-RK

A quick note about budget cuts

I get whipped up into a righteous anger over all of the reports indicating that "We could save the NEA with the money we spend to guard Melania Trump in Trump Tower (possibly true)" or "If the President would cut down on his golf, we could save Meals on Wheels. (likely true)."  There are more examples out there, but you know the kind of report I'm talking about: The ones that demonstrate that many popular federal programs are a drop in the bucket with respect to the federal budget and could easily be funded if we just cut a little here (the military) or there (presidential perks). 

While the reports are, in theory, correct from a numbers standpoint, they miss the point. These programs would be cut even if they cost one dollar. This isn't about saving money; it's about ending programs that some legislators believe have no business being part of the federal government.  Some of them are libertarian, free-market zealots, some of them have a strict-constructionist view that the federal government should restrict itself to making treaties and defending the shores, and others are in it for, let's say, less idealistic motives.

The bottom line is the same, though: If the government is doing it, then there's no room for business to make a profit on it.  In 2005, Rick Santorum proposed a bill that would make it illegal for the National Weather Service to offer free weather reports on the principle that they prevented businesses from being able to charge for weather reports.  Here's the relevant part of the text of the bill:

Prohibits the Secretary from providing or assisting other entities in providing a product or service (other than a product or service for the preparation and issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings as described above) that is or could be provided by the private sector...

So, the takeaway here is that cutting funding for social service, education, and the arts this isn't a war on spending or an attempt to balance the budget, even when they're advertised as such. It's an attempt to prevent the government from providing services that could prove lucrative to the private sector.  Everything else is just a smokescreen.

-RK