Creative Destruction

December 31, 2007

The Off Colfax List Of Best Books Of 2007 That No One Has Heard Of

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 3:54 am

Well, here we are. Another holiday season gone by, and you were actually fortunate enough for your Great-Aunt Sue Ann to give you a gift card to Borders or Barnes & Noble or Amazon rather than the usual pair of puce and cream macramé socks. But what to get with it?

Here are my unsung, or sometimes sung at too low of a volume, gems of the past year. This won’t be a list with your Skinny Bitches and Looming Towers and Eat Pray Loves and Ann Coulters and Water For Elephants and Oprah Book Clubs and Age of Turbulences and James Patterson’s team of ghost writers and et bloody ceteras. (C’mon. You can’t tell me that you expect a single person to crank out 5 new novels in a calendar year without using ghost writers, even with such incomprehensible twaddle as Patterson usually releases under his name. That’s just crazy talk.) This is for the real book lovers that can venture beyond the best-sellers list.

I know what you’re thinking. Dude. How come this strange OC person could be qualified to judge what could be a good book, much less one of the best books of the year. Simply put, and most of you don’t know this, I’ve been working at the bookstores in Denver International Airport for the past 6 months. So I’m constantly picking up random books and leafing through them. And when I start unconsciously reaching for a handy place to sit, I know I have a good one. (Now all I need is a way to spot my manager before he spots me first.) (And no. I don’t get any kickbacks from these links. So click away without fear of accidentally supporting an anonymous blogger.)

First, for the occasional high-school girl that randomly gets to this page via the Next Blog button while still laughing at the incompetent emo threatening to cut his fingernails, I give you the Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Gabrielle Zevin brings us the occasional daydream of every high-school student: What if I was able to start here at school all over again? In this one, one high-school junior is is about to do so after falling down some icy stairs and waking up to zero memory of the last four years of her life. Remarkably well-written and highly accessible, even to those odd socialites that insist they only read the Clique series and are very stuck-up about it.

Next up on the list… Hmmm. Let me guess. You’ve heard of the Dangerous Book for Boys, right? And the Daring Book for Girls as well? Good. Now have you read the Dangerous Book for Dogs? I didn’t think so. This is every good dog’s essential companion in the ever-lasting quest to become the bad dog that they always wanted to be. From proper ways to get out of the yard undetected, to cat-chasing tips, to a taste comparison between Dolce & Gabanna leather slides and Kenneth Cole moccasin-stitched loafers, it’s all here. Pay special attention to the etiquette section on crotch-sniffing. Please. Your humans will thank you. (And yes. It is a parody. But I’m still waiting for the Daring Book for Cats to come out.)

Now, for you cooking fanatics out there comes this collection of sordid tales of the kitchen called Don’t Try This At Home. All of us have a war story about when things go horribly wrong in that strange place-where-food-is-put-together-place. (Yes, even when you accidentally microwaved the foil-wrapped leftovers because you were too hungover to notice. That counts.) With little of the pretension of Anthony Bourdain’s ego-stroke known as Kitchen Confidential, this collection of Murphy’s Law-related stories will cheer you up immensely. Whether it is the lobsters that are off or the kitchen is flooded or the cake is in 15 pieces on the Long Island Expressway, it is proof positive that the more (self?)important the chef, the larger the associated screw-ups.

Music lovers and musicians alike will enjoy this book by Daniel Levitin called This Is Your Brain On Music. A former music producer turned cognitive psychologist, Levitin delves into such obscure elements as neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, and neurochemistry; and all in language that is easily accessible to anyone, regardless of whether you can carry a tune in a bucket or not. Read it. Love it. Pass it on. Only try to get it back afterwards. Unfortunately, my copy is still in the hands of my manager’s family in El Paso. Hopefully I can get it back one of these days. (Then again, I’m on my 9th copy of Ishmael, 6th copy of Atlas Shrugged and 3rd copy of Shampoo Planet, so probably not. I have a habit of buying books that migrate.)

For us science-fiction lovers out there, a new release of an old trilogy has hit the shelves. The Chronicles of the Black Company, from way back in the ’80s, has returned to print once more. Not individually, mind you, but in an onmibus edition that will keep you well and truly happy with life for a serious stretch of time. This is one of those books that most of the “professional” booksellers never believe would sell, but it marches straight out of the store whenever new copies arrive, in lockstep with a very happy new owner.

For you current affairs fanatics, I have three words for you: Band of Sisters. With the ever-increasing number of females serving in the military, and particularly in the Iraqi theater of operations, this is one of the first books to chronicle their stories. If I had time, I could wax poetic for hours about this book, but I would run out of metaphors far too quickly for my taste. Pick up a copy at the next possible opportunity. Just don’t ask me for one. I’m sold out.

And finally, for those fiction lovers out there, comes my one extraordinary odd choice: The Gum Thief. Of course, for those that know the Me-Behind-The-Keyboard, any Coupland novel is far from an odd choice. I’ve been a raving fanboy since I first read Generation X in college. It’s practically expected that I love and promote a new Coupland novel, sometimes before I even read it. Which, unfortunately, was what I was doing with JPod, which I tossed aside in disgust at the self-aggrandizing and self-promotion even while chortling at the occasional self-abuse. In the Gum Thief, he returns to what he does best: real people in real situation talking about their real lives… and how much they really suck. Most people wouldn’t expect a novel about a 40-something alcoholic and 20-something overweight goth girl, both working at a Staples, to be interesting. Most people would be sadly mistaken.

So what are you still reading this for? Go and read something with quality for a change. G’wan. Shoo.

[Crossposted]

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December 30, 2007

Yeah, Right, Whatever ….

Filed under: Current Events,Human Rights,Politics — Brutus @ 4:34 pm

I learned a few days ago that a group of Lakota Indians residing in South Dakota have seceded from the United States and disavowed all past treaties. They are apparently demanding recognition as a sovereign country and have cited, among other things, the UN Resolution on Indigenous Peoples, which I blogged about earlier this fall.

This is pretty astounding. Secession! But not surprisingly, the news of it has hardly been noticed. A quick Google search reveals that none of the usual mainstream media have created articles about it. Further, the U.S. State Department was notified and their nonresponse thus far amounts to a big, fat “yeah, right, whatever ….”

If there is any true revolutionary spirit still alive within the U.S., I’d have to say that Native Americans (to use the politically correct term) have a far more compelling claim to moral authority than any other group of which I can think. Only a few days ago, the group’s website was called Lakota Freedom. I see that it now redirects to Republic of Lakota.

I for one will be interested to see if this movement gains any traction. There are rumors that Russia will recognize the Republic of Lakota, though one has to wonder whether that’s just a means of jabbing a figurative elbow in the ribs of the U.S. State Department. (Considering how many think of international politics as mere gamesmanship, I wouldn’t be surprised to see others enjoying the opportunity to poke at the U.S.) It would also be curious to see how land claims dating back to the middle of the 19th century are sorted out, as the Lakota intend to reclaim their ancestral lands and revert to open plains populated by bison. I can’t imagine for a moment anything really coming out of Lakota secession, but I’m oddly sympathetic to the notion of letting them go and seeing what happens.

December 24, 2007

Wilkinson’s Family Restaurant

Filed under: Business,Humor — Brutus @ 7:02 pm

Presented without comment:

December 22, 2007

Political Stratagems

Filed under: Politics — Brutus @ 2:28 pm

This got my attention in regard to the recent report that the Republican minority in Congress manages to hold sway through filibuster:

… Republicans in the congress are willing to take the heat for obstructing popular legislation, even when they have an unpopular lame duck president of their own party who could veto it and let them off the hook. Normally politicians, survivalists that they are, would be trying to distance themselves from a 30% president by this time and he would be forced out there on his own. But here you have them racing over the cliff right along side him. That they have maintained such solidarity in the face of dramatic failure is quite impressive.

After identifying this puzzling behavior, the article offers this comment:

If one assumes that we are dealing with a party and a political movement that operates as the constitution expected politicians to operate, this would all be very odd. But they aren’t. The modern Republican party has somehow managed to create movement loyalty that supersedes not only the national interest but their own political self-interest.

The final justification for all this, according to the article, is that disgraced politicians feel secure that whatever their short-term losses may be, they will always end up landing on their feet, which is to say, there is no real disgrace. Lose one job or office and one is subsequently offered another position of influence. There doesn’t even appear to be personal finance consequences worth considering.

This may all be true, of course, but in explaining the what, how, and why of conservative politics as practiced today (and indeed for the last 30 years), the author misses perhaps the most obvious explanation: the conservative movement is populated by true believers. The willingness to put their reputations and livelihoods on the line suggests to me a hardened ideology rather than the knowledge that they’re secure taking a few personal hits before moving onto the next thing.

December 16, 2007

Insomniac Wanderings

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008 — Off Colfax @ 8:39 am

So yeah. I can’t sleep. And nothing is working. The melatonin isn’t even trying to show up tonight. Warm milk got cold feet. and the old standby of a purring cat? It helps if they would even stay in the room.

So what to do? Simple. Get up and start surfing political sites and try to bore myself to sleep.

That didn’t work. But only because I found something that was actually interesting.

Meet John Tomlin. The rest of the time, he’s a student at Union College. But for this primary season, he dons the secret identity of John Tomlin, Credentialed Reporter For MeetThePrez.com. Complete with daily videos, he will be following the action until Super Duper Tuesday. Or Incredible Tuesday. Or Terminal Tuesday. Or whatever we’re actually calling the massive influx of primaries and caucuses that happens on February 5th, when the races will be all but over.

Is this the smoothest operation on the planet? No. Is this the best operation on the planet? Again, no. Is this the coolest thing to happen so far this election cycle? Damsure.

And if you want to see what else he’s done so far this month, here is his YouTube page. Look. Listen. Watch.

Very interesting stuff happening this election cycle, hether it be Ron Paul’s record-setting single-day take or Mike Huckabee’s meteoric rise in the polls or even Mike Gravel’s existential silent film. And not all of what is interesting is coming from the campaigns.

Check it out.

Presented Without Comment

Filed under: Ethics — Off Colfax @ 4:12 am

This.

Hoax. Link in comments.

[T/S: Insty]

December 14, 2007

Lies and Insistent Lies

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Brutus @ 2:36 am

Anyone with an iota of sense has got to believe that despite vehement denials, many if not most top athletes are currently taking or have taken performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Cycling is one of the worst offenders, but it appears to be widespread in other sports as well. (There’s a blog about everything, of course, and Steroid Nation follows the news on this issue.) Recent admissions by Marion Jones that she had taken PEDs — unwittingly, perhaps — and lied to cover up the fact have resulted in her recently being stripped of her records, medals, and now reputation. Much as I’d like to feel sorry for her, it’s difficult to be sympathetic when she filed a defamation lawsuit against her supplier after she apparently knew that she had been doping. So not only did she lie (repeatedly), she insisted upon her lies in a lawsuit. (Similar insistence by Bill Clinton during his impeachment had the same hubris. Indeed, the cynic in me believes most people will lie out of expediency and insist on their lies when pressed. No shock there.)

Being a poor judge of character, I don’t know whether to believe pro athletes when they protest they’re clean. But I can observe that competition is so intense that there is often no way to compete successfully unless they join the doping ranks. It’s a shame, of course. Marion Jones isn’t the only athlete to pay a high price for the illegal steps she took to achieve her success, and doubtlessly others will admit their transgressions over time.

All this is a good reason to turn our collective attention away from professional sports for a while, not that I expect that ever to happen. When the superhuman feats demonstrated by athletes are revealed to be the result of widespread drug abuse, what pleasure remains for spectators? Or we could decide the opposite: throw competition open to achieving results by any means possible and let athletes decide what they want to do to their bodies. The record books may not represent a level playing field in terms of historical comparison, but within any given year, the top competitors would have no unfair advantages, since no PED would be off limits. And at least the charade would be over.

December 11, 2007

Bullying Cops (Diatribe from Comments)

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Politics — Brutus @ 12:41 am

A visitor to this blog posted a short diatribe in the comments to a post unrelated to his concerns, which understandably has gotten no reaction. I thought I’d pull it forward into the body of a regular post and offer anyone the chance to respond. I’ve edited slightly for grammar and spelling.

Mike says:

I’ve been looking to post this somewhere. I do apologize if this seems like I’m hijacking this thread. I just needed to write about the way I feel. Anyway, here goes…

Look, cops are bullying fascist scum across the board. The real reason someone would join the [police] force is that they like manhandling people, wielding authority, and inspiring fear. These people otherwise would be excellent for running the electric chair. Or the gas chamber. I can’t believe that anyone who is “progressive” would support them. If you are a “leftie” who does, please leave and go join the right wing. I don’t want you in my ideology. A peace activist was arrested for riding a bike on the street. An unarmed immigrant was shot by the cops when they thought he was reaching for a gun. There are so many more stories like these I can tell you about. This is not a case of a few bad apples. This is more commonplace every day. Don’t fall for the “protect and serve” crap. More things are becoming illegal every day, so more and more average people can get shafted, and the injustice system can economically profit. Wake up, America. You are living in a corporate police state, where eventually the only truly legal you can do is shop. You could be turned in by a neighbor who doesn’t like you even if you did nothing bad. Oh, wait, sorry, I think we are there already. What is wrong with some of you liberals who support taking guns away from citizens, but you still want the government to have guns so that they can “protect” you. Those who believe that “safety” is more important than freedom! I’m not saying this to be mean, but I’m saddened and scared by the direction this country is taken. We all deserve better than that.

Please respond to my post. I haven’t been able to get any responses, positive or negative. I want to get a sense of where people are on this. Thanks.

Notwithstanding Mike’s own attempt to bully folks into awareness, I agree with his general thrust. I support the notion of law and order, but I don’t think we’re getting it from law enforcement agencies in the fashion we should. The recent spate of unnecessary tasering people is a good snapshot of how police respond to citizens who pose little real threat.

We have also given up a lot of civic responsibility and personal rights in the process of becoming fat and happy Americans. Many of us have considerably more fear in the last, say, 15 years about being in the wrong place or saying the wrong thing and suffering the wrath of law enforcement, which is ostensibly intended to serve and protect us (as the slogan goes). Authorized users of state violence (police, FBI, CIA, and branches of the military) are often no longer trustworthy with the use of lethal force or even more mundane things like investigating suspects, which now routinely involves illegal surveillance. Over time, law enforcement has gotten to be paranoid about internal threats, so it resorts to questionable crowd management techniques and propaganda campaigns to quell dissent, among other things. It’s a sad state we’re in. But before we develop a consensus that the citizenry needs to act (by voting, or perhaps something more direct) to stem the tide of creeping fascism, there is no solution. We get the government we deserve.

Anyone else with an opinion?

December 9, 2007

More on Scouts and Gays

Filed under: Blogosphere — Robert @ 3:19 pm

Over at my personal blog I have a somewhat lengthy post up talking about Scouting and gay rights. I would crosspost it but it has a bunch of links, and I don’t want to trackback-spam the blogs I’m linking to, so I’ll just point you in the right direction. Or the wrong direction, depending your point of view 😉

December 2, 2007

It’s a Wiki Wiki Wiki Wiki World

Filed under: Blogosphere,Education — Brutus @ 6:07 pm

The so-called wiki phenomenon — where you set up a website based on a niche database and let your users create all your content while you do very little — has become widespread in the last few years. Though not the first wiki, the granddaddy of them all, of course, is Wikipedia, which has by now spawned Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikinews, Wikispecies, Wikiuniversity, all of which fall under the Wikimedia umbrella. Other wiki-style websites include YouTube and Flickr (and doubtless others of which I haven’t yet heard). The fanciful word wiki is Hawaiian and means fast, which refers not to the rapid growth of such websites but to the software and style of communication they use.

Critics of Wikipedia point out that because the source is editable by users who may not possess proper academic training or credentials, the content found there is often unreliable. The website is replete with disclaimers that facts have not been checked or verified. Indeed, enough examples of editing wars between competing writers promulgating their own versions of content have been observed that some editors have been banned and some articles have been locked and made uneditable. It has also been observed that some articles have considerable political influence brought to bear on them.

Last year, the U.S. Patent Office banned Wikipedia as a source to aid in the determination of the patentability of inventions. More recently, teachers and librarians at schools in Easton, Pennsylvania, have adopted policies similar to those at Centenary College and Lehigh University to discourage students from consulting or citing Wikipedia. Some schools have gone so far as to block access to Wikipedia from their computer networks.

We have discussed the uses of Wikipedia in this venue in the past, and as memory serves, most commentators were favorably disposed. Without launching into a major epistemological debate, I pause now to observe that perhaps the worm has turned and academics have begun to insist on the integrity of their sources of information. I for one heartily agree. As for the straightforward entertainment wikis such as YouTube and Flickr, well, by all means enjoy without conflict.

Off Colfax Eats Worms: And Other Phrases Designed To Remind CD Bloggers That They Really Should Title Their Posts

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 12:32 am

Am I the only one that immediately thinks of this Monty Python sketch when this video starts playing?

W: THE CHURCH, IT.. ITS COMING CLOSER! ITS COMING DOWN THE ‘ILL!

M: WHAT A LIBERTY!

W: ITS TURNING INTO OUR LANE! WELL, YOU BETTER GO PUT IT OUT OF IT’S MISERY.

M: WHERE’S THIS MISSILE, THEN?

W: IT’S IN THE ATTIC. PRESS THE BUTTON MARKED CHURCH!

M: ‘OW DO I AIM IT?

W: IT AUTOMATICALLY HOMES IN ON THE NEAREST PLACE OF WORSHIP!

M: BUT THAT’S ST. MARKS!

W: IT ISN’T NOW, LOOK!! OH, ITS OP’NING THE GATE.

M: WHAT? USE THE MEGAPHONE!

W: IT’S OP’NING THE GATE!! ‘HURRY UP, ITS TRAMPLING OVER THE AZALIAS!

(Sound: Missle launch, explosion, bells diminish)

M: Did I ‘it it?

W: Yes, right up the aisle.

Yeah. Probably I am the only one that thought of that. Because I’m weird like that.

[Turn Signal: ITA]

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