Monday, June 17, 2019

Eccentrics and obsessives: a clickbait book

     Eccentric Lives, Peculiar Notions. (1999) A collection of journalistic pieces about eccentrics, most of them British or American. Either other nations don’t produce and nurture their eccentrics as well as the Brits and Americans do, or else Michell has some difficulty reading other languages. Whichever, this is an entertaining look at a number of well-known daftnesses via mini-bios of their originators or publicisers. The book begins with an obsessed lover, who nowadays would be put behind bars as a stalker. The book ends with the beginnings of Ufology. In between we discover an arch-Druid,  Atlantis, Flat-Earthers, British Israelites, a Hollow Earth inhabited by left-over Atlanteans, or maybe star-people, etc.
John Michell.
     Michell has a soft spot for Baconians, Marlovians and other people who can’t believe that a mere country bumpkin could have so much learning in his plays. I guess they didn’t realise that Shakespeare was a great adaptor of other people’s work. He would have thrived in Hollywood.
     Adequate illustrations, which in the British manner are not keyed to the text. Workmanlike style, with occasional sparks of wit. A pleasant way to while away a couple of hours. Pretty well all the material in the book has been the stuff of many, many YouTube videos. **½

92 pages aren't enough: Debt oif Honor (Star Trek graphic novel)

  Chris Claremont et al.  Debt of Honor A Star Trek graphic novel. It begins with a flashback, apparently a grievous memory of Cat. Kirk’s. He’s on a boat with Dr Taylor, a nubile 20th century woman who’s helping re-establish dolphins in Earth’s seas. The following story involves tracking down some nasty not-quite-bug-eyed arthropodic monsters who’ve arrived in the neighbourhood via a “rift” in space-time. The old Enterprise crew, all somewhat greyer and wrinklier, assemble on the new Enterprise. There’s more flashbacks to explain the relationship between Kirk an T’cel, a Vulcan-Romulan woman from his past. Klingons also participate: this story explains the eventual rapprochement between Klingons and Humans. Everything ends well, of course, with a hint of future adventures when T’cel decide to go exploring on her own. Oh, and Kirk ends up back on the boat with Dr Taylor.
     The book is confused and confusing. If you know enough about the Star Trek universe, you can piece together a reasonable time-line, and the central plot is well enough told that its hokiness (as you should expect) doesn’t intrude.
     But the flashbacks aren’t well handled. I’m one of those people who expects clear demarcations within a graphic novel, either chapter headings or subheadings, or noticeable shifts in graphic style, or both. I also like a good deal more character development than this book offers. I want to a few more insights into Scotty or Spock, for example, not just allusions to past events. So as a story, this book is merely average.
     The graphics are also somewhat lacking. Faces aren’t consistent enough. There’s sometimes far too much text. IMO, if you need words to clarify what’s happening, the story is either not suited for graphic treatment, or the story-boarding was skimped. Or, and I think this the underlying issue here, the story is to large and complex for the 92 pages allowed for it. To put it another way: as a text novel, there would be plenty of room to develop all the plots, past and present, and to interlace them clearly.
     For all these reasons, I assign **.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Wise fools: New Yorker Cartoons

    Bob Mankoff, ed. The New Yorker Cartoons of the Year 2016. (2017) Grouped in categories such as Animal Instincts, What the Doctor Ordered etc. New Yorker cartoons are known for being insightful, wittily, sometimes bitter, but always worth a look. I leafed tyhrough this book at one sitting, then looked through ti agaian. It’s that kind of book.

     If you need some solace, or a reminder that the world won’t go away, there’s a New Yorker cartoon that will fit your mood. One I liked: a theatre full of cats watching a movie. The screen shows a boot with a loose shoelace. Our cat can’t stay away from anything that looks like a string. ****

Monday, June 03, 2019

Love and Loss: the Rhythm of Life.

     Lauren Carter. Following Sea (2019) Lauren is a friend. Don’t think that makes this review any easier.
     I read this sequence of poems almost at one sitting. It’s a page turner, unusual for a poetry collection. Several things kept me reading: the story of some of Lauren’s ancestors pieced together from the fragments revealed in the poems; Lauren’s grief for her childlessness, which surfaces partway through; Lauren’s skill with the sound of language, there’s much alliteration and internal rhyming, and a loose, wave-like rhythm.
     The setting for most of these poems is Manitoulin Island. Lauren’s evocation of that place and its history impressed me.
     I recommend this book. ***

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Trump on tariffs: Does he really not get it? Or is he pretending?

Mr Trump has once again  "imposed tariffs on" Mexico. He talks as if the Mexicans will pay these tariffs. Well, whoever pays, the prices for Mexican goods will rise, and American consumers of those goods will pay more. Mexico not only makes consumer goods but also components for products made or assembled in the USA.

A tariff is an import tax, levied to bring the prices of imports up near (or even above) the prices of domestic products. Their net effect is to raise domestic prices.  They are sometimes coupled with export subsidies, so that prices of domestic products in foreign markets will be lower. The justification has always been to protect domestic industries so that they can thrive on the domestic market. The justification has always been to protect domestic industries so that they can thrive on the domestic market. The effect has always been that domestic prices are higher.

I wonder: does Mr Trump not understand this? I've seen Facebook posts that show the poster believes that tariffs will be paid by the foreign manufacturers, and that the money will flow to the USA. So is Mr Trump playing to this misconception? Or does he make the same mistake?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Drugs and other decadent indulgences: Ian Rankin's Hide & Seek

     Ian Rankin. Hide and Seek (1990) The second Rebus tale, and a dark and troubling tale it is. Rankin knows how to create ambience and character, and to tease out a plot that convinces. This one starts with Rebus called to the apparent overdose of a junkie, but niggly little weirdnesses hinting at witchcraft bother him. They widen into a network that ensnares the high and the mighty of Edinburgh.
     I first encountered Rebus in the first TV series starring John Hanna, and liked the edginess of the stories. I started reading  his novels,  this is the third one I've finished. I couldn't get far into several others. I don’t think I’ll read another one. I’ve lost my taste for dark and troubling tales. But if you like well written crime novels, read Rankin. He has few equals. ***

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Comment to NYT on story about Nigel Farage

Comment to NYT on story about Nigel Farage
With some additions.

The soil that grew this poisonous plant is nostalgia for Empire. The English wallow in rosy-tinted fantasies of the past. One symptom: They have more Railway Preservation Societies than the rest of the world put together. I occasionally receive Steam Railway, a news magazine about these societies, whose mission is to promote steam locomotives. A recent story about defunct steam locos referred to the railroad "turning its back on steam". The implicit accusation of betrayal is obvious.

Or consider Downton Abbey, another example of treacly nostalgia, with every episode signalling that these were the days of glory when England ruled the world, and somehow the Others have since stolen England's place. Note how everyone knows their place, and accepts it. Oh, the days of tugged forelocks and curtsying maids! Gone, gone forever!

Farage's message is the same: The cosmopolitan elites have betrayed all that was best in England, and he will restore it. See also  Rees-Mogg's affectation of wearing Edwardian costume. But of course what they and their like really want is an England in which they rule unfettered by bothersome regulations about environmental protections, social safety nets, and financial probity.

Beware: As we age, we become curmudgeons who wish the times were as simple as we misremember them. That wish distorts our perceptions, and influences our votes. That's what the Farages and Trumps count on.

Monday, May 27, 2019

ETs as they could be

     Terence Dickinson (text) & Adolf Schaller (original illustrations).  Extraterrestrials (1994). An essay in controlled imagination.  Dickinson and Schaller begin with fictional ETs, then survey the Universe as we know it. Then they discuss evolutionary pressures which (probably) constrain the forms and functions of organisms. Finally, they speculate how ETs may appear if these evolutionary constraints work as expected. The book is handsome, pithy, and inspiring. Recently, SF movies have gone a step or two beyond the bug-eyed variants of human forms of Star Wars and Star Trek. I think this book and similar exercises in speculative imagining have had an good effect.
     The cover shows a half-kilometre long aerial whale swimming through the dense atmosphere of a gas giant like Jupiter. Symbiotic “crabs” living on and in the creature provide the manual dexterity needed to build cities and space-craft. ***

The Fascination of Everyday Things: Margert Visser's The Way We Are

     Margaret Visser. The Way We Are (1994). A wonderful potato chip book, but more nourishing. Margaret Visser wrote a column for Saturday Night, Canada’s defunct general interest and arts magazine. Her editor, John Fraser, persuaded her to collect them into a book. Here it is, and if you can find a copy, buy or borrow it. You won’t be disappointed.
     Visser has a knack for giving you both the essence of some topic and some off-the-wall riff on it. These essays often prompt further reflection. My favourite: she ends In Flagrante Delicto (an essay about blushing) thus:
     We blush above all when we think that other people think that we are different from what we want them to think we are.
     Which reminds me of my tentative definition of “honour” as our mutual acceptance of the public images we’ve created of ourselves as being better than we know ourselves to be. “Dishonour” is the revelation that we are not what we pretend to be. Hence the widespread misconception that some bad behaviour reveals “what a person really is”. What a person really is all the behaviours they are capable of. Most of us never discover all that we are capable of, but few, I think, understand how lucky they are. ****