Saturday, January 31, 2009

'We'll always have Burris'

Any "Casablanca" fans out there? Don't miss "Best of the Web" blogger James Taranto's rewrite of the romantic final scene of Casablanca, with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich standing in for Humphrey Bogart's character. (Skip down to the dialogue).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are you a libertarian? A test you can't fail

If you lean libertarian, you are probably familiar with the World's Smallest Political Quiz, designed for newbies to figure out if they are libertarians, too.

I recently ran across the Libertarian Purity Test, by Bryan Caplan, which seems aimed at promoting a more generous view of libertarianism. The answer key is amusing. I scored in the 60s. The answer key says, "51-90 points: You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much."

Caplan, by the way, is the guy who wrote "The Myth of the Rational Voter."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Adolf Hitler, bookworm

I’ve always been kind of a bookworm. When I have free time when I’m off duty, as often as not I have my nose buried in a book. I know many of the people at the Sandusky Library by sight.

So it’s a little disappointing to learn that Adolf Hitler was kind of that way, too. The New York Times has an interesting review of the new book “Hitler’s Private Library” by Timothy Ryback.

At the end of a long day of work, Adolf liked nothing better than to kick back with a “steaming pot of tea” and a book in his study. A photograph from the book shows him posed in front of a bookshelf in his apartment. The only personal possessions Russian soldiers found in his Berlin bunker at world’s end were dozens of books.

I suppose the book proves what we already know — that what's scary about the world's monsters is the way they seem just like the rest of us.

Jo Walton's excellent novel, "Ha'Penny," about an alternate world in which Britain makes a separate peace with Germany, includes a scene that depicts Hitler as charming. Last November on her blog, Walton answered questions from readers about her "Small Change" books, including "Ha'Penny," and I remarked about the portrayal of Hitler.

Walton replied, "Hitler really did have attractive qualities. The way I describe him is based on how many British and American people writing about meeting him in the thirties described him. If he'd been a visible monster radiating evil, people wouldn't have followed him in the first place. You read Diana Mosley's letters and she says things like 'Poor dear Hitler.' And you read that and the cognitive dissonance is quite astounding, because the way history has painted him after the fact you can't quite imagine that anyone could ever have spoken about him in that tone of voice. Yet if you let him be a monster, and uniquely evil and all that, it makes it much safer, because you'd recognise a monster, wouldn't you, you couldn't be taken in by one? Part of what I was doing with these books was showing where the monster is in us."

Addendum: Off topic, but topical, Jo Walton remembers Donald Westlake. (Via Supergee).

Monday, January 05, 2009

Prometheus Hall of Fame nominees announced

About a year ago, I joined the Libertarian Futurist Society, a group that exists mainly to present two annual literary awards for science fiction works concerned with liberty: The Prometheus Award, for the best novel published the year before, and the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, for a classic.

During last year's awards, I simply voted for the nominees in each category, but for 2009, I've been allowed to serve on the two judging committees. The Prometheus Award nominees won't be announced until next spring, but the Hall of Fame panel has finished its work and come up with six nominees.

They are:

  • Falling Free, a novel by Lois McMaster Bujold (1988);
  • Courtship Rite, a novel by Donald M. Kingsbury (1982);
  • "As Easy as A.B.C.," a short story by Rudyard Kipling (1912);
  • The Lord of the Rings, a three-volume novel by J. R. R. Tolkien (1955);
  • The Once and Future King, including The Book of Merlyn, a novel by T. H. White (1977); and
  • The Golden Age, a novel by John C. Wright (2002).
I think it's a strong batch of nominees.

There are three works that weren't on the ballot last year, and I really like two of them, including Courtship Rite, about a planet with few natural resources that practices cannibalism and group marriage. Sounds off-putting, I know, but it's a very interesting and original novel. The John Wright is a kind of far-future libertarian utopia; the conflict comes from a struggle by the hero to build and pilot an interstellar spaceship. His peaceful society believes establishing colonies on other star systems could reintroduce war. Wright is a very philosophical writer, with a style obviously influenced by Jack Vance. The Bujold, also new to the "Hall of Fame" ballot, isn't terrible, but it's not particularly interesting, either.

Official announcement is here.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Scott Adams' war on Amazon

My main Christmas gift this year was the new Dilbert book, "Dilbert 2.0."

I haven't had time to read it yet, but I know I'll love it. It's a very large collection of Dilbert comic strips, plus a DVD of every Dilbert strip published so far over 20 years, and there's a long introduction on how Adams creates Dilbert.

So, it's good news for Dilbert fans. But I can't see how it can be good news for Amazon, where my wife ordered the book. It's a very large, heavy book -- I can't fit it in any of my bookshelves. I'll have to find out whether I can sell my spouse on putting it on the coffee table.

Amazon loses two ways. First, the book is heavily discounted. And second, the free shipping must be a killer for a book so large and heavy. If we read in a few weeks that Amazon suffered unexpected losses during the holiday season, I'll blame Scott Adams.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"Lost" Cheap Trick

If they remember Cheap Trick at all, most people remember the band for their early, commercially-successful albums, e.g. "At Budokan" or "Dream Police." But although they fell out of critical and commercial favor, many of their later albums are quite good. Some are not so good, admittedly, but "Music for Hangovers" is a great live album, and fine complement to "Budokan."

"Woke Up With a Monster" (1994) is a pretty good. It's produced by Ted Templeman, the producer who discovered Van Halen and made them into stars, and the album sounds as if Templeman is trying to turn the band into a typical 1980s hard rock band. The thing is (as a character in a book I just read, Kate Atkinson's "When Will There Be Good News?" is wont to say), Templeman has a lot to work with. There's no better hard rock singer than Robin Zander, and Rick Nielsen is a fine hard rock guitarist. It's a cheap album, too; it's available on Emusic.