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Friday, May 31, 2013

Greece 2013

We went to Greece this year for a sailing trip, bookended by days in Athens and Thira (on Santorini). I'll break up the visit thus into those 3 sections. This is the index page. I'll post links to other people's pictures as they get them up.


Trip Report:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: The Best American Essays 2011

I picked up The Best American Essays 2011 during an Amazon sale for about $1.99. At that price, it was a good buy for the 3-4 good articles in it. The articles span a lot of topics, and too many of them are simple mood pieces or have too much literary flourish for me to have patience. There are a few deeply analytical ones, but even the piece on say, the slow decline of Detroit read too much like a fancy pansy literary piece rather than hard hitting journalism. At the default Kindle price of $8.99, this is a rip off.

Not recommended. I had to force myself to read about half the book.

Review: The Fine Print

The Fine Print is David Cay Johnston's book about how corporations rip off the American people. The book starts with a great science fiction story: imagine a world where after a strange event happens, some people are discovered to be immortal. They can still be killed and die through accidents, but they will not age and will not die of old age. Further, the strange event has changed them so that they are now solely motivated by money. The answer of course, is that this science fiction story is not science fiction at all, but the "people" involved are called corporations.

In chapter after chapter, Johnston takes on one aspect after another of corporate malfeasance. Whether it's AT&T/Verizon/Comcast ripping you off on your phone bill and charging you insane amounts of money for service that would cost one third what citizens of other developing countries pay, or PG&E neglecting maintenance of gas pipelines leading to massive explosions and people dead, there's even grist here to get your blood boiling and hopefully you mad enough.

Johnston knows all of these topics well, and leverages his facility with numbers and his strong sense of journalism to bring the stories to life. Some chapters are short (like the ones on Hollywood tax breaks), and some are long, but they all go a long way to debunk the myth that there is such a thing as a virtuous, successful capitalist in modern American society. Neither Google nor Warren Buffett come off as the heroes they are portrayed as in popular press.

Despite all that Johnston shrinks back from the obvious conclusion: the modern limited liability corporation is a terrible legal construct and a lousy way to run society --- there are no circumstances under which a society with such entities wouldn't end up corrupt and undemocratic. Yes, there are other developed countries that do a good job of keeping such entities under control (Western Europe, for instance), but they're also societies that come under frequent pressure to follow the Washington consensus.

This is a book that won't get read by enough people to make a difference, but you know what, you should read it anyway. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Review: Redshirts

I'm  a big fan of John Scalzi's sense of humor, especially in Old Man's War. However, when I heard about Redshirts, I was less than 100% excited. While it is ridiculous that Red-shirts dropped dead all the time on away team missions, I didn't think that the joke itself could sustain an entire novel. As a result, I waited until I could check it out from the library before reading.

Unfortunately, I was right. The central premise is funny. You've got a crew that's scared to go on away missions, and you've got characters that get shot and wounded only to recover all the time on missions. You've got technical gobbledy gook with ridiculous technical solutions, how despite how advanced the ship is, nobody sends e-mail and messages are always delivered in person. It's pretty funny, but it lasted about half the book and then the rest of the novel becomes a farce, barely worth reading.

I eventually limped along to the end, but only out of a sense of masochism. I wouldn't recommend anybody put themselves through the entire novel. Read until the sense of fun is over and then abort the mission.

Not recommended.