Saturday, November 19, 2016

It's not about the cats

     Rebecca M. Hale. How to Wash a Cat (2008) Somebody should have edited this book. The author apparently used a thesaurus. Bad idea: If you don’t already know how to use a word, the thesaurus’s “synonyms” designation will mislead you. Hale apparently also wanted to create a complete first-person experience for the reader, for there are unnecessary adverbs and adjectives everywhere. The result is dilatory narration and irritating weirdness.
     The story begins with the death of the narrator’s uncle Oscar, a supposedly-lovable grump with a fixation on San Francisco Gold Rush history. The narrator inherits his antique store, and a historical puzzle. The mcguffin is a potion that mimics death, with possible therapeutic value; and a cache of diamonds. Many people want one or both. The narrator figures it out, trailing well behind the reader. Tunnels, veiled warnings, mysteriously unexplained help from strangers, etc, add melodrama. Hale (unfairly) IMO withholds information about some of the characters, the denouement contains a couple of surprises as well as solutions. Two cats wander around the story and the antique store.
     There’s a decent book inside this over-wrought mess. Trimming away about a third of the verbiage would have made this so-so book into a very good one. I think Hale self-published (via Green Vase Publishing – a green vase figures in the store-front renovation), and good sales prompted Penguin to buy the paperback rights. The book was a best-seller, I think because of the cats. It’s the first of a four book series; I trust that Hale had editors for the other three books. *½

Sunday, November 13, 2016

the Ant and the Grasshopper

In  When Republicans Take Power (Nov. 12, 2016),  Geoffrey Kabaservice writes:

“Mr. Trump will not be able to bring back the manufacturing jobs he promised, but he could put his supporters to work building roads and bridges instead.”

The notion that building roads and bridges will provide a nice large employment boost is a common misconception. Anyone who’s watched how roads and bridges are built these days knows that there are more machines and fewer people. Even the flagmen and -women who control traffic through a road-construction zone are being replaced by traffic lights powered by solar panels.

Sure, we need to repair roads and bridges, and some increases in employment will be a nice side-effect. But manual labour of all kinds has been and is continuing to be replaced by machines, machines that are increasingly intelligent, able to perform more and more complicated tasks.

What’s more, computers are replacing the professions. White-collar jobs are fading away just as blue-collar jobs did, and for the same reason: Our profit-focused economic theory and business model sees people as a cost, and so seeks to eliminate them.

The malaise of our highly technologised economy is that it produces more than we can consume, yet we operate it on the same assumptions of scarcity that worked for our ancestors, assumptions which make production morally superior to consumption. Worse, too many players of the economic game believe that accumulating stuff is what it’s all about. “He who dies with the most toys wins” is taken at face value by a surprising number of people, if we take their behaviour as evidence of what values drive their choices.

But as older people will tell you, when you’re faced with getting rid of the stuff accumulated over a lifetime, you realise what a mug’s game that was. Nobody wants the stuff that you piled up. It’s obsolete, it has at most sentimental value, but even your children want only a few pieces.

We praise the ant, not the grasshopper. We haven’t noticed that the ant is now a machine directed by a microchip.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Poison at a Party

     Rex Stout. Champagne for One (1958) A friend has asked Archie to sub for him at an annual dinner for unwed mothers, instituted by the late Mr Grantham in conjunction with his founding of a home for them. A poisoned glass of champagne kills one of the girls, Archie immediately sees that it must have been murder, but everyone else thinks it’s suicide. But since Archie repeated his claim to the police, Cramer and Stubbins must investigate it as murder. Wolfe of course wants to figure it out. The murderer and other people interfere in the investigation.
     A nicely done PI story, with Archie in fine form as investigator, and Stout giving him and Wolfe carefully considered lines about the legalities of doing and not doing what others ask them to do. I like these tales not only because of the plots, but also because of the characters. Stout is very good at dropping hints; Archie’s dry wit gives us the angle that reveals character. The ambience is very 1950s. These 60-year-old novels have become historical fiction for us. And of course nostalgia machines for those of us who were alive back then. ***