Agents of Treachery: Never Before Published Spy Fiction from Today's Most Exciting Writers by Otto Penzler
A good mix of spy stories set everywhere from WWII to Somali pirates.
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro
Five short stories, all lightly interconnected and all about music and some sort of personal transition. Engaging characters, sharp prose and a very funny turkey scene.
Terminal World (Gollancz S.F.) by Alastair Reynolds
Promising start, but then sags badly and ends inconclusively. Which makes me concerned that there might be a sequel or even a trilogy in the works. It's the first Reynolds book that I haven't liked - more blimp opera than space opera with a passive, repetitive protagonist.
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
An interesting mediation on belief, that boils down to how normal it seems for a minister to not believe in God, and then how extraordinary for the same minister to believe to have met The Devil.
- Cleaning the air would limit short-term climate warming from Global Climate Change - NASA's Eyes on the Earth (An interesting twofer).
- What happens when you stick your head in a particle accelerator from Boing Boing (I used to have nightmares about this while commuting on 280).
- Keen On… MIT Professor Says Robotic Moment Has Arrived, And We Are Toast (TCTV) from TechCrunch (Bollocks. Or rather, replace robot with dog or cat and get the same result.).
- 100-ft-long drug-smuggling, Narco-crafted submarine discovered in Colombia from Boing Boing (Ooooh, will they be auctioning it off?).
- After Failing To Get Hacked Last Year, Google Paying For Chrome To Be In Pwn2Own 2011 from TechCrunch (If you're still not using Chrome this should provide some inspiration to make the switch. There's really nothing better, other than telneting to port 80.).
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On Tuesday Intelligence Squared US held a debate on the proposition that “The Two-Party System Is Making America Ungovernable”. David Brooks and Arianna Huffington argued for the motion, Zev Chafets and P.J. O’Rourke against. I’ve included the video of the debate at the end of this post.
I argued for the two-party system to be broken up last year - Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed.
Chafets and O’Rourke won the debate in terms of swing (scoring is based on a vote before and after the debate) but the final break down was 50% in favor, 40% against and 10% undecided.
Huffington started with a somewhat lame opening argument, claiming that we’re somehow at a unique junction in history where our problems really need fixing:
“so while the two-party system might have been okay during the ordinary times, we’re not living in ordinary times right now.”
Overall, she focused too much on current issues rather than the systematic functioning (or not) of government.
O’Rourke, as one might expect, was amusing in refuting the proposition but the thrust of his argument is that nobody could do a better job, the public isn’t that interested, the system is broken but why bother trying to fix it:
“I would simply concede the debate if I were able to imagine some other political party or independent candidate – left, right, or fanatically middle-of-the-road – who would do a better job.”
For a free market demagogue like O’Rourke this is incredible. This is like claiming in 2007 that AltaVista and Yahoo! while not perfect are as good as search is likely to get so why would we need Google?
Brooks really got to what I see as the nub of the issue. He argued that politics is full of good people who want to to the right thing being made into worse people by having to conform to brutal tribal party affiliations:
“But they’re in a tribal mentality in what – what they can achieve is severely limited by the tribal sort of Tutsi versus Hutu nature of our politics of the current two-party system.”
This brings Romney’s desperate distancing from the individual mandate to mind.
Also from Brooks:
“The University of Maryland had a very interesting study where they took Tea Party people, they took liberals, and they said, “Here’s our budget problem, you deal with it.” And the Tea Party people acknowledged that they had to raise taxes, and the people on the far left acknowledged some spending had to be cut. They could all do it. But the two-party system can’t do it.”
Finally Chafets cited the US being in the 90th percentile of the World Bank’s Index of Governability as some sort of argument in favor of the status quo. I guess it depends on your definition of governability – being able to reliably elect a government versus having that government actually represent the interests of the electorate once in office.
Here’s the video:
- Does America Need A Third Party (Again)
- Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed
- Open Democracy
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My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big City Backyard into a Farm by Manny Howard
Alternatively funny and painful. Manny Howard is clearly not cut out to be a farmer but he battles through problems that seem to be mostly of his creation and manages to feed himself briefly from his back garden. Given he's doing this with a largish plot of land and an expense account it's a warning to anyone with urban agriculture ambitions. The death toll on the farm is pretty extreme - not the necessary slaughter of chickens for food but the number of avoidable accidents that border on abuse. Am now even more inspired to leave farming to the professionals...
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
Wind in the Willows Gone Wild.
It's nothing like his normal experience-mining, but hilarious none the less. Dark, grotesque fairy tails mixing the worst of animal and human behavior together.
Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
After the mediocre FBI books this is a breath of fresh air. A man wakes up on a mysterious ship, supposedly on a slower than light mission to colonize a far off planet. But something has gone horribly wrong. Bear is channeling J.G. Ballard here, Hull Zero Three is mysterious and surreal and eventually haunting. It's hard SciFi with just enough horror (reminiscent of Pandorum and Moon, but much richer than either film). I think it's probably the best novel he's written, and I nearly missed it after assuming he'd gone soft with Quantico.
When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie #3) by Kate Atkinson
Bit of a rhetorical question in the title, good news is pretty thin on the ground in this brooding third outing for Jackson Brodie. Very good, but need something light now...
Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher Series #15) by Lee Child
The biggest hobo is back, and faced with by far the nastiest baddies in the series so far. It's the typical small town with a dark shadow setup and you know there's only one man for the job. Reacher has it a bit too easy in this installment. Child sets up some fearsome opponents but then knocks them down almost as an afterthought. While billed as a sequel to 61 Hours (also published in 2010) Worth Dying For stands alone with only a small nod to the bind Reacher found himself in at the end of the last book.
Zero History (Bigend, #3) by William Gibson
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On Friday the National Park Service published their GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan which is now open for public comment until April 14, 2011. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses over eighty thousand acres of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. In San Francisco GGNRA managed lands include Baker Beach, Crissy Field, Fort Funston and Ocean Beach. If you care one way or the other about dog access to the GGNRA please take the time to review the plan and send in your feedback. I’ve reproduced my comments in full below.
My family lives in San Francisco and owns a dog. Many of the places we regularly go for walks are in the GGNRA. I fully accept that dogs can cause trouble and even danger and that there should be areas in the park that are free of dogs. Dog owners are a large user group though and I’m concerned that the NPS is going too far. If you walk your dog in the GGNRA here’s why you should be concerned:
The plan significantly curtails off-leash dog walking. For example, Fort Funston could go from this (red shaded area is off-leash, click for larger version):
To this (yellow shaded area is off-leash):
Worse than any of the proposed immediate changes is that the new off-leash is different from the old off-leash. The plan creates ‘Regulated Off-Leash Areas’ or ROLAs. A key part of the ROLA definition (PDF) is:
“ROLA areas are subject to adaptive management as identified in each alternative. Subject to monitoring, an area can be changed from ROLA to on-leash or no dogs if compliance is not achieved.”
In other words, despite the two thousand plus page dog management plan we’re being asked to accept that the NPS can revoke access in the future without further consultation. The ‘adaptive management’ described in the plan would use NPS maintained statistics to downgrade off-leash to on-leash to no dogs at all and explicitly rules out ever moving any area in the opposite direction.
Here are the comments I’ve submitted to the NPS (comment ID: 457979-38106/85):
My family owns a dog and lives in San Francisco. We visit the GGNRA at least once a week. The Draft Dog Management Plan would reduce our enjoyment and use of the park considerably.
In the plan the enabling legislation for the GGNRA is quoted: “In order to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco counties, California, possessing outstanding natural, historic, scenic and recreational values and in order to provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space necessary to urban environment and planning, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is hereby established”. The plan also discusses the long history of off-leash dog access before and after the creation of the park.
Because open space is so limited in San Francisco, and because the GGNRA controls the entire coastline I strongly support continued access to provide reasonable exercise and recreation for dogs and their owners.
I’m very concerned about the tone of the plan and some of the specific provisions.
The objectives listed in the executive summary all relate to controlling, reducing and restricting dog access. Given the park’s charter to provide ‘public use and enjoyment’ and ‘needed recreation open space’ an important objective should be to preserve sufficient space for off-leash dog access.
The plan exhaustively lists real and theoretical issues related to dog access however there is no comparable section discussing issues with prohibiting or restricting dog access. These include wasting limited park resources on restricting responsible dog owners rather than cautioning the irresponsible, forcing dog owners to travel further to take their dogs for a reasonable walk and increasing the likelihood of aggression by concentrating dogs in increasingly small designated areas.
The plan also continually discusses dog access in the context of park-wide regulations preventing any off-leash dog walking. San Francisco donated properties to the GGNRA on the proviso that traditional recreation would be maintained. The tone suggests that leash-free access was a mistake, and that the park service is begrudgingly fulfilling the park’s mission only when forced to do so. I’d have much more confidence in the process if the plan started from the position of accepting a variety of recreational activities, including off-leash dog walking, and then attempted to balance the varied needs of visitors, culture and wildlife from there.
Given this I find the adaptive management provision of the regulated off-leash areas (ROLAs) to be unacceptable. This provides the NPS with a mechanism to further erode dog access to on-leash only and even to prohibit dogs entirely without further consultation. The plan further states that under no circumstances will the reverse be true – once dogs are banned the park will never consider opening up access again. This is a far greater threat to preserving the park for future generations than any amount of dog access.
Rather than penalizing the vast majority of responsible dog owners the Dog Management Plan should focus on enforcing existing rules and regulations.
Below I discuss the proposed plan for the sites we visit regularly:
The preferred alternative is far too restrictive. When the closed section of trail to the north of Fort Funston is open again there should be off-leash access for the full length of the beach and alongside trails so that a loop can be made down the sand ladder and then returning via the central or northern access trails. Of all the GGNRA sites Funston would seem to be the best candidate for Alternative A – maintaining current access – especially if the preferred alternative is selected for restricting most of Ocean Beach. We visit Fort Funston weekly, rain or shine, and given how heavily the area is used I’m surprised at how rare it is to encounter any problems.
The preferred alternative is a good balance. When the east beach is busy there can be far too many dogs and people competing for space. For this reason we usually visit Crissy field when the weather is too severe to walk on an ocean facing beach and so it tends to be just dog walkers anyway.
The preferred alternative is reasonable, provided that Fort Funston is not overly restricted (see above).
Marin Headlands / Rodeo Beach
The preferred alternative massively reduces the trail available for hikers with a dog. We often complete the loop up the coastal trail to Hill 88 and then down Wolf Ridge / Miwok to return to Rodeo Beach. The trails are rarely crowded and a well behaved dog has no more impact than a person. The Hill 88 loop should be kept open to off-leash dogs. The preferred alternative for Rodeo Beach is acceptable.
Update January 17, 2011: KQED has a Forum segment on the dog management plan at 9am PST today. Join the discussion or access the audio archive here.
Update February 2, 2011: Sign up for this Facebook page: Save Off-Leash Dog Walking Areas in the SF Bay Area.
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The National Park Service has posted their draft dog management plan for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The plan is open for public comments until April 14, 2011.
- Response to GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan
- Response to updated GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan
- GGNRA Dog Management Round 3
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Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards by P.J. O'Rourke
P.J. O'Rourke is hilarious when given something to react against. His Driving Like Crazy anthology last year was superb. Sadly this latest tome is closer to the dire CEO of the Sofa... It's just conservative talking points and cheap shots at the lefties. Not even funny cheap shots or it would be worth reading. Ironically in one chapter O'Rourke reviews recent left and right wing books and chides them for the same mindless behavior. Disappointing.
Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks
Back to a classic, grand-scale Culture novel and I think one of the best yet. Banks manages to zoom from funny to tragic, from space opera to personal vendetta. It makes me want to go back and read all the Culture novels again to freshen up the various references. Must read if you like Banks or SciFi.
- Local Cartographer Creates “Islands of San Francisco” Map from Bernalwood (Handy).
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The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
A first person account of a procrastinating poet who just can't get the introduction to an anthology started. It's filled with fascinating nuggets of information like a Bill Bryson book, a lesson in poetry and a manifesto for a return to poems that rhyme. Short, sweet and beautifully written.
The Evolutionary Void (Void, #3) by Peter F. Hamilton
Some science fiction takes you to the future through new ideas or technology. Peter F. Hamilton physically drags you there through actual time. I started reading him last century and have just surfaced from the conclusion of the Void trilogy in actual honest to goodness 2010. I hope he takes some time off. I could use couple of years to catch up on some other books.
The Void trilogy is set in the same universe as his Commonwealth Saga and Misspent Youth, set over a millennium later although there are many recurring characters. We finally discover the true nature of the mysterious void at the heart of the universe introduced in The Dreaming Void, several thousand pages ago.
It's epic space opera combined with a thread of fantasy that eventually resolve into a single story. His dialog is often leaden but the plot and scope of the story more than make up for it. If you like this sort of thing then you're going to love it.
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Take a moment to watch Brian Kilmeade and Janet Jackson below.
The wardrobe ‘malfunction’ resulted in the FCC attempting to impose a $550,000 fine (eventually overturned on appeal). Kilmeade’s “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”, a genuine obscenity, resulted in a half hearted apology.
The current political climate is driven by unbalanced vitriol from both the left and the right. The Fairness Doctrine was eviscerated because of a belief that there was sufficient competition in broadcast media so that all sides of an issue could get fair time. But when you watch a news network that matches your political affiliation this just isn’t the case. If you’re in the news business then there should be some standards, including fairly presenting both sides of an issue and at the very least not repeating lies and insinuations with the authority of mass media.
24-hour news stations are especially bad because most days there just isn’t that much news. This leaves a choice between repeating the news that exists which is boring, or making stuff up which is a lot more fun. Unfortunately It’s also corrosive.
The FCC should be empowered and required to levy substantial fines where news outlets engage in factually incorrect reporting, where a reasonable amount of due diligence (or the slightest familiarity with terrorism) could have a prevented the error. This would reign in some of the worst, and also benefit from generating its own news coverage. We also need to consider brining back the Fairness Doctrine for any news outlet above a threshold audience size – print, television, radio or online.
- The BBC helpfully fails to explain the US political system
- The Trust Project, Fake News and a Partial Facebook Uninstall
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The current pushback on the nasty choice between nude backscatter photos vs. ‘enhanced’ TSA groping got me thinking.
If I really wanted to blow up a plane (which I don’t) I wouldn’t mess around with printer cartridges or shoe bombs. I’d combine some explosive containing breast implants with a trigger disguised as a pacemaker. Some terrorist cell somewhere must be working on this or something like it.
How would the TSA respond? Would we need an MRI before boarding?
I think the radiation scare is overblown – far lower than the risk from hanging around at 30,000 feet. But it’s not ridiculous to refuse and getting to third base with the TSA doesn’t seem like it’s making us much safer.