Nigh-anniversary

Amidst all the chaos and horror of watching everything good your country has done over the last 50 years undone in a matter of months, we're rapidly approaching the first anniversary of our wedding and honeymoon. Even one year after the fact, there's enough good associated with those days to push aside the rest of the world and make me feel, if only for a short time, that everything right and good with the world makes it all worth it.

We're celebrating a little early on account of the fact that an opportunity too good to pass up landed in our lap. We're at the Hotel Havana in San Antonio, which is owned and operated by the same good folks who gave us El Cosmico out in Marfa. The term "curated" is overused (and most often, misused) these days, but when you stay at a place like this, the term makes all the sense in the world. Every detail is just so, creating an environment that is more comforting and relaxing than any of the luxury accommodations I've visited.

This probably isn't the place for everyone, but it fits the two of us like some cliched object which fits very well indeed. There's nothing gilded, no lacy linens, but it's old and quiet and comfortable and it has, quite ridiculously, two bathrooms. Rather than trying to describe the whole room, I'll just detail the main bathroom. There's a toilet to the side in it's one enclosure, a central area with a rug, a leather chair, and a stand-alone sink and mirror. In turquoise-tiled hutch behind there, there's an open shower area (no walls at all) and a large bathtub. Ridiculous, right? But it works. Best shower I've ever had, and damned if I can properly explain why.

Maybe this will explain it better

Maybe this will explain it better

It's not the sort of place you visit to sleep overnight and then move on. It's more of a retreat, a place to get away, than it is a hotel. That's what I've been trying to say. It makes me think of that marvelous era when writers and other bohemian types lived at hotels for long periods of time. That romantic notion of life appeals mightily staying at a joint like this.

It even has a proper desk? Not one of those glass-covered, overly busy monstrosities you get at "luxury" hotels.

It even has a proper desk? Not one of those glass-covered, overly busy monstrosities you get at "luxury" hotels.

Speaking of "romantic," this feels like a reprise of our honeymoon in the best possible sense. It's hasn't been an easy year in many other senses, but being with Nicole is the best thing that has ever happened to me (and this from someone whose life has been marked by more good fortune than I claim to deserve). She supports me through the bad stuff and, hell, she supports me through the good stuff which isn't something that should be taken for granted. She makes everything in my life better and I hope like hell I can continue to do the same for her.

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So yeah, I'd marry the hell out of her again.

I'll shut up now and just share some more images of this lovely place. If you're in central Texas and you're looking to get away from everything without going into the middle of nowhere, you could do a lot worse than Hotel Havana.

One of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in, too.

One of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in, too.

Looking down from the bed area.

Looking down from the bed area.

Stairs. Oh so many stairs in this building.

Stairs. Oh so many stairs in this building.

Living area. Cute fridge, pity about the name.

Living area. Cute fridge, pity about the name.

-RK

 

 

 

When the drain on the battery exceeds the charge rate

I'm going through one of those spells where the weekends, the refueling times, aren't long or restful enough to top off the tank, meaning that each week, I'm dipping a little deeper into the reserve to get through it all. 

Which is to say, I don't have a great deal to report, at least, not a great deal that's terribly interesting. I got my blood work back from the lab and I'm surprisingly healthy in most respects, but my B12 level is low and my vitamin D level is...I'm trying to remember the exact words on the report. "Alarmingly low," I think, is what they were. Apparently, the best answer for this is to drink milk and eat a lot of fish. The more realistic response is to take supplements. 

I'm currently reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go which is both quite the page turner and absolutely nothing like I was expecting from the author of Remains of the Day. The trade paperback has one really annoying quirk, though. The typeface, which I've seen identified as Bembo Schoolbook, is unusually distracting. It's thinner than what I'm accustomed to reading and it bothers me more than it should. It's quite pretty; it's just not great for reading.

My fair burg finally got a Peruvian restaurant worth the name. If you're not familiar with Peruvian food, at least the versions of it that have made their way this far north, you'll be in for a treat. Imagine a delicious stir fry and then imagine serving it over hot french fries. That's the lomo saltado, which is probably the most obviously accessible dish, but any culture that comes up with that level of genius is going to produce some fine food. The place is called Lima Criollo, and it's inexpensive, the portions are generous, and it's as casual as you'd like. 

That's about it for now as we're getting into wee-hour territory here and I'm pretty sure that staying up late isn't going to do my energy levels any good. Good night, and take care.

-RK

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but mostly the latter

Is it just me, or have these last few weeks been the worst? I find myself listing the tragedies and obscene acts by politicians and celebrities just to keep myself from getting buried beneath the sheer awfulness.

  • Hurricane Maria leaves thousands of Americans without food, water, power and/or shelter in Puerto Rico. The White House complained that helping these people was going to mess up "our" budget and told the people that they were lucky they hadn't 
  • The funding for CHIP expired on 30 September.
  • The US votesd against a UN resolution condemning executing people for apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and same-sex relations.
  • The birth control coverage mandate has been removed.
  • The dreamer program (DACA) has been ended.
  • 59 people were murdered by one gunman in Las Vegas, leading to a massive surge in gun sales.
  • The justice department has filed opinions in court stating that businesses may fire employees for being gay.
  • The justice department has also determined that Title VII does not apply to trans people.
  • The House has banned abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • The President of the United States is spoiling for war against North Korea.
  • The administration is actively trying to undermine the ACA, limiting the registration period and declining to advertising the enrollment dates.

That's a hell of a list, and I'm certain I haven't remembered everything. That's the point though; there are so many terrible things happening (or, more accurately, being done) so quickly that it is difficult to focus and fight on all of these fronts. It's overwhelming to me, and I'm not even in the line of fire for most of these

Most of these acts target minorities. I don't see any way to look at this list and come to any other conclusion, and I started writing this before today's little PR stunt. In case you missed it, the President sent Vice President Pence to Indianapolis for the express purpose of walking out of a football game during the national anthem. They spend a reported quarter million dollars to have the Vice President protest against men who protest against race-based police brutality.

So, if it's wearing you down, I just wanted to let you know that it's getting to me to too. Honestly, I'd be worried about anyone who doesn't feel the weight of the events of the last few weeks. No matter how tempting it is, I implore you not to tune out for the sake of self-care. Doing that is a privilege possessed by people who aren't (currently) under threat. Stay alert, stay angry, and for fuck's sake, register to vote.

 

Various and sundry

Today was a nice day off before we do a little travelling this weekend. That didn't stop Nicole from treating me like today was a work day in that she prepared one hell of a dinner (and dessert) while I diddled around on my keyboards and watched impatiently as my fantasy baseball team limped over the finish line. It's been raining all day, which is nice, because it's still a novelty. Autumn comes late here, so we're just now starting to transition in double-digit high temperatures and clouds that arrive more purposefully than they have in four months.

I've been reading a book of short stories by Roberto Bolaño titled The Return. Bolaño was a Chilean poet and novelist who was completely off my radar until this book caught my eye. The cover blurbs were unusual. I didn't expect to see Mark Danielewski's name on the back cover, but that's the sort of thing that will make me think "Hmm, this might be worth a look." As it turns out, Bolaño's a hell of a writer. His dialogue has all the messiness of real conversations, even if I'm not always certain what the story is about. The tone brings to mind China Mieville, although the styles couldn't be more different. I'm enjoying what I'm reading and I'll likely be checking out one or more of his novels.

I've added a couple of new-ish bands to my rotation: The Horrors and No Devotion. I say "new-ish" because neither of them are truly new. The Horrors' fifth album just came out, and No Devotion are largely what emerged from the wreckage of Lostpropphets. They both are toting what I'd call a very late-80s sounds, not quite Joy Division, but close enough to be mistaken for it if you squint just right. 

I can't really think of any great movies I've seen lately, or even great television outside of "Rick and Morty" (I haven't seen any of this season of "Bojack Horseman" yet, but I expect it'll be strong). The hurricanes and the political mess have been sucking the air out of the room. All I have say about our President (at this time, at least) is that, if you want people to show respect for this country, maybe you should make it worth respecting.

That's about it for now. I'm in a lovely house with a wonderful wife, a cat sitting directly on my shoulder, a couple of beautiful snails, and with a delicious (and heart-healthy) dinner in my belly. Life is a lot better than I expected it to be. Nice surprise, that.

-RK

RKQ&A 4

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 fourth one I've done. Here are the first, the second, and the third.


 

What pop culture you love is most difficult to explain?

I may get roasted for this, but Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch is a movie I just can't abandon to the people who (maybe correctly) bash it for its misogyny. Snyder is an ambitious visual director who struggles to get his point across clearly. In Sucker Punch, I see one of the most ambitious movies I've ever seen. He tries to one-up Brazil both in terms of depicting fantasies that intersect with reality and with his outrageous anachronistic set pieces. 

Maybe I was seeing things that weren't there, but I think his depictions of the women's fantasies were positive, both in intent and execution. I say "think" because I can understand arguments to the contrary. The film's point of view is too shifty for its own good. I'm not sure that Sucker Punch is really a good film, but it tries to be a great one, and I love it for that, even if it doesn't hit the bullseye. 

What pop culture did you eventually come around on?

When I was working for record stores, we used to take home promotional copies of records once we were done playing them in-store. In some cases, the record was never going to get any play and we just gave them away immediately. Since they were freebies, we often left with music we'd never heard of and weren't particularly invested in giving a long listen to. 

I brought home the promotional copy of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, which was a cassette, half-heartedly listened to it on my way home in the car, and immediately gave it to a friend who I thought might like that sort of thing. It turns out a crummy car stereo is the wrong way to listen to one of the most intricately-crafted guitar albums of all time. Who knew? Anyway, headphones turned me around on this one. The album sounds like being drunk at night on a merry-go-round in the absolute best way possible.

What’s your favorite comfort food? 

This is going to be the most pedestrian answer to this question you can imagine, but the honest answer is: Anything with chicken broth in it. Growing up, my mother would give me chicken soup and a salad for lunch when I was home sick from school. Ever since then, I've associated chicken broth with comfort. Chicken noodle soup, of course, but also chicken and dumplings, chicken ramen, chiken pho, and cream of chicken soup.

If I had to pick one, though, it would be what commonly passes for tortilla soup in these parts. The spices, the aroma of the cilantro, the cheese, and even the baby ear of corn, all spell "comfort" to me. If we're low on cash or just want something to warm our bones, Nicole cooks up a giant pot of her homemade tortilla soup using a whole chicken and we'll eat that for four or five nights in a row. I never get tired of it, and I'm always a little sad when we finally run out.

What’s your favorite pop culture about change?

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman reads like an anthology series made out of nesting dolls. There are stories within stories within stories. It's not until you get near the end, around "Brief Lives," that the pattern starts to emerge (of course, Delirium flat-out giving it away helps): The Sandman is about the Destruction brought on by change and the price of being unwilling to accept change.

I was about to write "The beauty of the series is in..." and I just can't narrow it down like the. There's beauty in the telling, in the sly way the overarching story unfolds, in the complimentary one-off stories, in the art, and in the way it ends the way it must end and still manages to surprise. Change is inevitable; how you react to it (or don't) determines its impact.

I like my art with a little shrapnel

"That's all I've tried to do — leave bits of shrapnel in them like I've had bits of shrapnel left in me from other films. We entertain as best we can, but we also try to reach people."

That's from a Gizmodo interview with Terry Gilliam that came out about when The Zero Theorem was released. It's not new, but it's really, really worth reading. Some people struggle to add anything of interest when discussing their art, but Gilliam is not on that list. 

I've seen Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem three or four times now and it's one of the stickiest movies I've ever seen. I mean this in the sense that I keep thinking about it, and about how bits of it connect to reality in weird and unexpected ways. Gilliam describes himself as a cartoonist, someone who's showing reality in a distorted way in order to make his point. He's also a poet, in that he uses visual metaphors that on the surface make no sense (try to describe Qohen's job to your friends and see how mad you sound), but which can be easily understood by watching his films. 

I love the idea of art leaving shrapnel in people. I get that, and he's a master of it. His Brazil was the first film I can remember that hit me that way. It was also the first film I remember having to see multiple times before I "got" it. 

It's not just Gilliam or even films that do this to me. The first time I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden, I wasn't able to sleep for a couple of days because it messed up my worldview so severely (and, just for the record, for the better). Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet lit up several of my blind spots, not the least of which was I had no idea hip hop could be that powerful. Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, especially volume three, still mess me up. Obviously, "Black Mirror" is designed specifically to be this kind of weaponized art, and it succeeds more often than not.

There are more, of course, but I didn't want to turn this into a "list post," I just wanted to share Mr. Gilliam's insights. Again, I can't recommend reading the whole interview strongly enough. 

-RK

In which I read The Thin Man and Ready Player One

I just reading a couple of books that came highly recommended. One was cleverly-plotted, full of witty dialogue, quick pacing, and well-drawn characters; the other was Ready Player One. 

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett isn't considered his best work and the ending is unsatisfactory, but it's such fun to read it doesn't really matter. Nick and Nora Charles banter is the sort of thing that could (and did) launch a series of films based on the characters and increasingly distanced from the source material. It's both light and literary, and there aren't many authors who can pull that one off.

The cover blurb, appropriately enough, is provided by Raymond Chandler "Hammett...wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before." I think that's exactly right. The dialogue sequences, with the light banter mixed in with some serious sleuthing, are peppered with side-glances and ambiguous but significant facial expressions. It's vivid without being verbose, which is one hell of a trick. 

The story itself is gripping enough, but the fun is in the telling. I still struggle with describing myself as a fan of detective fiction, but, having finally read Chandler and Hammett, I'm starting to come around. I know that's kind of like being a Bob Marley fan and saying you like reggae, but so be it. Hammett lives up to his reputation.


I'm late to the Ready Player One party, in no small part because it's a book so obviously aimed directly at me. I'd heard so much about it and about how I just had to get it that picking it up and reading it seemed kind of redundant. A cyberspace book with a lot of pop culture Easter eggs thrown in? That's my wheelhouse all right.

Having read it, I can see why it's such a polarizing book. It's a tween-ish hero story in 80s drag which makes it a very odd bird indeed. Are people may age, for whom the window dressing is suited, going to get into what is an extremely simplistic story, or are teens going to think that the 80s are just. that. cool?

The story itself is fine for what it is. It could just as easily be set in Camelot, or Sherwood Forest, or Azeroth, or any stock fantasy setting. It's extremely linear, with no real sense of menace and no real growth on the part of the main character other than an almost instant about face regarding the McGuffin. This happens, then this happens, then this happens, until you reach the end. 

Of course, the story isn't the secret sauce here, it's all of the extremely detailed references to my high school years. The lists of favorite movies, bands, video games, and TV shows take up pages and pages of the novel. It's not really an "Easter egg" if the author is showing each reference in your face and saying "Look at this! Isn't this cool?!?!" 

Reading it was slow going until I got about halfway through and I found myself just skimming the lists and details like "here is the hero played a perfect game of this video game," and "this character has memorized every single line of dialogue in this film, here, let me show you!" It skipped along briskly once I stopped paying attention to what it was that made this book special. Take that for what it's worth, I guess.

To sum up, I've just started reading The Maltese Falcon and don't plan on pick up Ernest Cline's follow up novel, T̶h̶e̶ ̶L̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶S̶t̶a̶r̶f̶i̶g̶h̶t̶e̶r̶  E̶n̶d̶e̶r̶'̶s̶ ̶G̶a̶m̶e̶ Armada.

Too much to do, not enough Ridley

I keep staring at this page, thinking "I really need to post," but my follow-through has been lacking. but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I've resigned from one of my three big responsibilities, probably later than I should have, but that will free up five to ten hours I found myself missing. The other side gig has settled into a nice rhythm that feels sustainable to me. The main job remains a little out of control, but that's the nature of the gig and it isn't likely to let up. 

I'll deal with that one later.

I've also made my doctor cross with me. My blood pressure isn't where it needs to be. We're not to the point of prescribing medication yet, but diet and lifestyle changes are in order and they need to be pretty draconian. Apparently, my 2-pots-of-coffee-a-day habit isn't what a doctor would call "smart." So, minimal caffeine and no foods/snacks/drinks with added sugar. Oh, and I get a neat blood pressure cuff too.

I knew things weren't quite right, so I can't say I'm surprised and, honestly? It could have been worse. Rather than complain about the fact I can't drink so much coffee, better to just put my head down and make sure I don't have to go on any meds. The one factor that worries me is that stress is a big player in the blood pressure concerns, so....how does one de-stress? Well, ditching one of my responsibilities is a good start. 

Cats, too. Cats relieve stress. Not this one, but in general.

Cats, too. Cats relieve stress. Not this one, but in general.

The stress is going to be the hard part. Both my wife and my boss have encouraged me to stop acting like the world will collapse if I don't get on it now now now. They're both pretty smart, so I'm going to try to take their advice to heart. Easier said than done, of course, but hey, I can turn off work notifications on my email! I can even not log in to my work email at night at all. What an idea! 

Writing here, too, is a way to slough off stress for me.  So, pretty soon, I'll be back to the writing about books that have already been reviewed a zillion times, shaking my tiny fist at politicians, answering questions that were meant for other people, and, during the best of times, travel adventures with Nicole.

Those are the best.

Those are the best.

Thanks for bearing with me on this one. 

-RK

If only it were just a racist in the White House

I've never seen it get this bad. Have you? Like I've said before, I vaguely remember Watergate, and this is nothing remotely like Watergate. At least Nixon was in control and the scope of his criminal activity was limited. Watergate was a trickle; this is a flood.

It'd be easier if Trump himself were the only problem. Removing him from office would solve the problem and everything would go back to something resembling normal. Unfortunately, his complete inability to lead and govern* has created a vacuum of power that has allowed other bad actors to operate unchecked and sometimes unnoticed because of all the noise the White House is generating.

One of the many, many things that bugs me about people who have "the answer" is that they will say "X is just a distraction from the big problem. While you're worrying about X, then Y is going unchecked!" First of all, by some strange coincidence, "X" is a social justice issue that doesn't directly affect this person, and "Y" is something that does. Every. damn. time.

And you know what? There are a LOT of legitimate, big problems that need to be addressed. We don't have the luxury of fighting this war on one front. The President is sympathetic to Nazis. Congress is trying to gut health care to give their donors tax breaks**. Many states have taken the emptiness of the office of the President as an opportunity to gut women's rights, LGBT rights, rights for people of color, as well as the programs that assist the poor of all demographics. The Russians have attempted to co-opt our elections for their own benefit, as well as to undermine NATO. The police are killing people of color without any apparent reason without any consequences. Oh, and dumbass is still rattling nuclear sabers.

My point is, don't tell me that the focus needs to be on one of these problems and the others will be addressed later. We don't have a single hole in the dam; we have a whole batch of them, and each of them will hurt and kill people. This ALL needs to be fixed, and saying we should only focus on your pet issue is not helpful and really patronizing.

-RK

 

 

* I understand that if he were even slightly effective as a leader, he would create a whole different and possibly worse set of problems, but at least the source of the trouble would have a single address.

** OK, I could do a whole post on this, but the real reason for the panicked rush to repeal Obamacare is a lot simpler and more evil than tax breaks. One of our two political parties has hitched their wagon to the premise that the government can't do anything right and everything should be privatized. A successful, popular health care program is a threat to their very existence in the same way social security is. That's why repeal-without-replace was on the table. 

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