Monday, January 25, 2021

Grant Park lichens

In addition to plenty of birds, oaks, and vistas... lichens! Not the best lichen spot in the region by a long shot, but an interesting rock outcropping here and there...

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Busy acorn woodpeckers

 Grant Park, east of San Jose.

Woodrat project, vol. 5

Oh, the woodrats in Wilder Ranch State Park are very very busy. Click on the pictures to appreciate the craftsratship in higher resolution.


The new Pixar movie is very clever and very sweet. I liked the bustling New York scenes better than the Great Before, with its indistinguishable pale green bubblehead spirits and Calder-esque bureaucrats. I especially loved the jazz itself, which is played in a straight-ahead modern style, no concessions to pop, just what you would expect to hear in a downtown club like the barely fictional "Half Note." Tia Fuller's alto sax is awesome, and Jon Batiste, whose stylistic choices are not always to my liking, gets it just right. The rest of the animated band is as good as you would expect it to be given the roster of real-life musicians who played the notes. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

John le Carré, RIP

His books have provided me with more pleasure than anyone else's– though a rather bleak, depressing kind of pleasure, to be sure.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Reading roundup

It's been a while! Four novels, each definitely worth your time, ranked from essential to merely recommended...

The Known World
Edward P. Jones

On second reading, I can affirm that it is one of the great novels of our time. The fully formed and ambiguous characters are implicated in multiple layers of historical and moral complexity. The dehumanizing brutalities of slavery and racism are in full view, along with heart-wrenching acts of humanism and dignity, not to mention venality, betrayal, and the full range of human behaviors. Everyone is trapped in a complex web of hierarchies based on race, freedom/unfreedom, gender, class, ancestry, and education. Yet agency and moral responsibility are not absent, even if they are tragically constrained by circumstances. I have made it all sound quite sociological, but the story-telling is simply extraordinary, and the writing is spare and poetic– biblical, I'd say. It's also full of life and love and beauty, and darkly funny in parts. Have you not read it? For all its limited geography, it encompasses our known world.

Hilary Mantel

After reading her bloated finale to the Cromwell trilogy, you may find it refreshing to be reminded of what an efficient and lovely writer Mantel can be. In this charming short novel, Satan (maybe) comes to visit a sleepy town. Lives are upturned. Wonderful.

Magda Szabó

I loved The Door, but Katalin Street left me a little cold. Abigail is somewhere inbetween– not a masterpiece, but well worth a read if only to get to know its plucky young hero. This is definitely the kind of novel a young person could love... a Hungarian Harry Potter? Perhaps so: According to Wikipedia, it was voted the third most popular Hungarian novel in Hungary. 

Red Pill
Hari Kunzru

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean the neo-fascists aren't out to take over the world, and in the process target you individually and make your life miserable while they're at it. Well-written, in full-on Don DeLillo mode, although I found the story-within-a-story flashback to East Germany more compelling than the main plot. It ends with a note of cautious semi-optimism on the worst political night of your life. 

Crime spree

One fine and four reasonably distracting genre-ish novels...  

The Searcher
Tana French

A return to form for French after her over-plotted and unsatisfying The Witch Elm. The story takes its time, with rather little action for the first two-thirds, but a quietly growing sense of dread, a lovely plot twist, and a satisfying finish. Nice.

Blacktop Wasteland
S.A. Cosby

Cosby's getaway-driver-mechanic protagonist Beauregard "Bug" Montage is a compelling character, a Black man with a history, trying to do right by his family and not get sucked back into the life. But the odds are not in his favor, and the results are tough if predictable. What brought the novel down a notch for me is that Bug is way too smart to involve himself with the low-rent low-lifes he gets involved with here. May he find better partners in crime in the sequels.

Squeeze Me
Carl Hiaasen

This one features the usual cast of quirky human and non-human Floridians, Hiaasen's signature blend of humor and action, and a kickass heroine. His fictional version of Melania is believable and appealing, but his Trump and MAGA ladies fall flat– it's mighty difficult satirizing people who in real life are well beyond parody.

A Burning
Megha Majumdar

The lives of three pretty interesting characters collide in Kolkata. A good literary suspense novel, with some culture and politics in the mix.

The Inugami Curse
Seishi Yokomizo

A kind of Agatha Christie drawing room-style murder mystery set in Japan. I'm pretty bad at figuring out whodunnit in whodunnits, but I dunnit in this one. It's... OK.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

No nukes

 An informative post from John Quiggin...

The key problem is not safety but economics. New plants are safer and more sophisticated than those that failed in the past, but they are also massively more expensive to build, and quite costly to operate. The capital costs of recent projects in the US, France and Finland (none yet complete) have been around $10/kw, compared to $1/kw or less for solar. And, whereas solar PV is essentially costless to operate, the operating costs of nuclear power plants are around 2c/kwH. Even when solar PV is backed up with battery storage, it is cheaper to build and to operate, than new nuclear.