Saturday, November 30, 2013



This is a term I made up just a few days ago when emailing my family about holiday gatherings. Thanksgiving Day was to be at the home of my brother- and sister-in-law, and the following day--the Friday after Thanksgiving--was to be at the home of another brother- and sister-in-law. None of us was going shopping. None of us was driving into the city. All of us were doing our best to avoid the crush of commercialism and retail gone mad that is the early morning hours of the day after Thanksgiving. Sounds like Thanksmorrow.

Black Friday.

Black Friday is a bad term. With bad connotations. Why would anyone willingly involve themselves in such a thing. Look at the company it keeps: Black Death (plague), Black Monday (worldwide stock market crash), Black Sunday (horror movie), Black Mamba (poisonous snake), Black and White (crummy television set, before beautiful color TV), Black Hole (from which no light, or happiness, can escape), Blackshirts (fascist terrorist Musolini group), Black Ops (non-sanction military operations). Well, you get the picture. Its not the word black, and its not the color black, its this particular use of the term to refer to things that aren't good, and that's where the term Black Friday comes from. The Philadelphia Police Department's description of the crowds and the traffic they had to look forward to on the day between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy game on Saturday. 

Folks would drive into town after the holiday to shop, celebrate, have dinner, go out for drinks and get ready for game day. The Phily police were NOT being kind when they referred to the traffic jams, and the unruly hoards as Black Friday. It was simply a bad day on the job. This term was used in Phily by the police in the 50s and and became generally know to merchants and the general population in Phily around that time. Black Friday wasn't a term that was more generally used by the media to describe the crazed shopping crowds on a more national level until the 1980s, and again, with derision.  More recently, retailers have begun to reluctantly adopt the term, which they originally didn't like, for obvious reasons, and now they're using it to advertise. Its a kind of tongue in cheek, "wow, isn't this shopping thing nutty?" thing that they are stuck with, just like us. Like we're on the same side, looking in. But we're not. People get hurt on Black Friday. People die on Black Friday. *

In 2008 a man was trampled to death in the vestibule of a Walmart when 2000 people broke down the doors. 2009 the police are called to control pushing and shoving crowds at Walmart,  2010, Walmart is store is evacuated due to crowds pushing, 2011, a woman pepper sprays the crowd so she can get a Wii on sale at Walmart, and last year, 2012, two people shot to death arguing over a parking space at Walmart. SO this year, Walmart is refusing to be party to this again, and they're closing until Saturday right? No, they opened at 8:00 AM yesterday and they're advertising includes a big ol' Black Friday logo. They even have a Black Friday theme song you can use to get in the mood. I wonder if the lyrics mention Jdimytai Damour, the man who was trampled to death in 2008. He had been a Walmart employee for about a week when he was killed.

Deep breath. Thanksmorrow. Deep breath. Thanksmorrow.

I've used that ugly Friday term for this day too often in this post. Christmas, Hanukkah, the holiday season in general, is about giving, about spending time with the people you love. It can't be the best way to show your kids how much you love them by kidney punching some lady in K-Mart to buy them a video game. For me, I'll continue to stay away from the shopping this weekend, and get what I need on some other day.

Yesterday, after all, was Thanksmorrow, the day after Thanksgiving. A day to get together with family in an even more relaxed fashion, eat left overs, tell stories, eat more left overs, and spend time with each other. There's no cooking, less cleaning, and even more fun.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksmorrow, and I hope you will always have a wonderful Thanksmorrow, with family and friends. Every year.

* Black Friday does not come from the positive, retailers-going-from-the-red-into-the-black, lets all celebrate a positive thing together bullpucky you see on some self-serving sites.

pattern recognition

Pattern Recognition has some SciFi leanings, I guess, but I certainly wouldn't say its SF in that way Neuromancer is.  William Gibson wrote Pattern Recognition about 10 years ago, and I haven't read other books by Gibson, but he's written a bunch of them. This one has a slightly future-esque feel,  like its set about 20 minutes into the future.

Cayce (pronounced Casey) Pollard is smart, driven, independent, talented, and slightly damaged. She keeps her phobia under control by reciting a personal mantra, and it usually does the trick. As often seems to be the case, when one least expects something odd to happen, something odd happens and Casey finds her professional life (trademark consultant) crashing into a particular part of her personal life, namely: her interest in an underground, online series of mysterious clips. he took a duck in the face

How these parts of her life are related, or if they are at all, and why she's being asked to examine these things, leads to a world wide search for answers. These questions and their increasingly strange answers, quickly become the fascinating and tightly wound mystery at this story's core. he took a duck in the face

This story took a little while to get off the ground, but once it did, I enjoyed it. My wife told me she actually put it down without getting too far into it. I'm going to recommend that she try it again. My feeling is that the slow start combined with an Elmore Leonard-type writing style may have turned her off. Just too different, or something, for her. he took a duck in the face at 250 knots

The writing is quick and choppy, the story is intricate, techy, and mysterious. There are a variety of supporting characters whose allegiances seem to fluctuate, adding to the mysterious feeling, which at some points is more like: "what the hell is going on?" At about the half-way point the story seems to gel and its a fast, fun read to the end.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

spy portrait

Portrait of a Spy is another Gabriel Allon novel by Daniel Silva. I read my first Allon story in Italy this past summer, and wasn't sure if this was a British import or not. My wife later told me that she's read some of Daniel Silva's books, including this one.

Gabriel Allon is an Israeli spy, who should be retired and working on his art restoration, but gets pulled back in to help with a terrorism case that needs the dexterity of the Israeli secret service, which the CIA can no longer provide. I guess its too big, too dilute, too well know, and in the middle east, too out-of-place. That's the storyline anyways. So the CIA comes looking for help, and Allon puts together his team, and tries to find a way to disassemble a newly formed terror network that has grown to fill the void left by Osama Bin Laden. this name and link just got me put on a CIA watch list. great.

In the middle-part of this story, the action for Gabriel Allon dries up, so... the action dries up, and I spend 50 pages or so thinking, "Man, I hope we solve this mystery."

And nothing happens.

Eventually the story kicks in again, and I guess it turns out alright, maybe a little bit weak on the wrap up up, but overall it was okay.  Maybe its me but it seemed like Silva was cranky, or aggravated about the CIA when he wrote this one, and it comes through. There is a profound sense of disappointment that clandestine services can't seem to get the job done when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks around the whole.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

martini companion

The Martini Companion is a fun to read guide to the history, ingredients and preparation of the classic American drink. Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan are co-authors and clearly fans of the martini, and as they point out, a martini is not just the name of a particular drink, as many know, it has now grown to include a whole class of drinks, which still focus on vodka and gin as their main ingredients.

They discuss the birth and development of the classic martini, and how it has evolved to become drier over time. There were surprises in here for me, such as just how sweet early versions of the drink were. Imagine lower quality ins with sugar added to mask poor manufacturing, coupled with sweet vermouth as the original mixer, sometimes added at up to 1/5 of the mixture! No wonder there was a push toward drying this drink out.

The history rolls right into the development of the individual ingredients, so there are sections on gin, vodka, and vermouth, which each end with descriptions of the various popular (and not-so-popular) brands, as well as individual tasting notes. There are also discussions about vermouth substitutes, garnishes, barware, and mixology. Ever wonder what the difference between shaking and stirring is? How much water is added to the drink during each method?

The hardcover is a handsome book: cloth covered boards, with heavy photo paper and a solid binding, and illustrated throughout with beautiful photos of antique barware from a private collection. The author clearly had a good time writing--and researching--this one.

Fun stuff! It was fun to read. And the recipes in the back tied it all up in a bow.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Wyrms was published in 1987, and the cover looks like it! Wyrms is written Orson Scott Card, who's name is back in the public's eye because of the movie version of his SF novel Ender's Game, 1985, the first in a series of Ender stories, which also spawned the Shadows, and The First Formic War stories, all in the Ender universe.

Orson Scott Card has won a number of book prizes, including the Marget A. Edwards Award for Ender's Game, and has been the editor of some SF anthologies. I read one of them at some point. The last thing I read was a series of short stories which were okay. Wyrms was not what I was expecting, and I'm not sure I understand the cover graphic of this paperback I found at my library's book sale. I certainly don't remember monkeys with clothes in the story.

Wyrms is basically a thought experiment about politics and religion. It takes place far into man's future, some 7000 years after man colonized a new planet called Imakulata. The story centers on a young girl/woman who is trying to find her way in the world in which she lives, as the daughter of a slave to the king. The history of the King, or Heptak as its called in this story, extends back to the very ship that brought the colonists to Imakulata. And our girl Patience, is wound all up in it.

Its a story of intrigue, murder, inter-species relationships and prejudices, religious tolerance and intolerance, the birth of myth and religion, and how various forms of the same story can mean many things to different people after so long. Given Card's political and religious writings--he's a right-wing Mormon--I would guess that if you were a follower, you'd find his philosophies laced throughout. I guess I'm not a real thoughtful or analytical reader, so I couldn't see the point as much as hear the discussion. I'm sure that if I thought about it more, I could tell you, but I'm reading for entertainment over here!

Was it good? Yeah, it was pretty good. If you're interested in what an author's religious and political views are, when he uses the position he has established in the community as a writer and the livelihood he makes from his book sales to advance those views, and you're trying to decide if you want to support such an author's mission when his views on issues such as democracy and gay marriage are so conservative, you may want to take a look before buying his books.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

last man

The Last Man is (apparently) number 13 in the Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn. If you'd asked me a few weeks ago I would have said, "Sure, I've read me some Vince Flynn before." but I don't remember reading any in particular, and when I took a look at the books tab right here on the ii, there's no Vince Flynn in the list from the past few years. So then (meaning, right now as I'm writing) I take a look at the Vince Flynn site and see if I recognize any books... (pause while I go look)...

Two titles look familiar: Kill Shot, and Consent to Kill, but I'm not sure if I read them or if I've just seen them around the house. I'm guessing its the latter; my wife likes the spy and suspense novels too. I was surprised to see that Vince Flynn has died. His site has a nice picture of him with dates, which make it look like a memorial, and I was confused until looking around a little more, I discovered that he died just this past summer after a struggle with prostate cancer over the past few years.

Mitch Rapp is a pretty well developed character by this point, and Vince Flynn's writing does a good job at one of my favorite things; staying out of the way. This writing style is great for action novels; it keeps the action chugging and while this wasn't the fastest read I've had, it did move along at a pretty good clip. If there was any problem with this story at all, its that there was a long slow build up, and pretty short finish. I found myself surprised that the story seemed t be getting to the mid-point for me, and I was three-quarters of the way through.

I also have a little bit of a hard time relating to characters who will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. Mitch Rapp has a bit of a trigger finger, and I guess I don't know enough of his backstory to know why, but I did find myself a little surprised that his superiors were thinking things like: I bet Mitch is going to kill this guy too, and I'm not sure I can stop him. Seems to me that anyone in a real job who isn't sure they can prevent their subordinate from killing first and asking questions later, may not be all that suited to their job (and should maybe think about finding a way to control their assets. BUUuuttt, I guess that's what escapist novels are for. did I just rant? was that a rant?   I... I don't think I can control myself...

So did I like it? Sure. It was fun. I'll dig up some of the others I've seen around here at some point and give them a go; see how Mitch Rapp got so screwed up.