The Go-To Guy

[from the vaults, 2007] April 3 Box ops, still walking the beat, although Ops has spiced things up by substituting a hexagon for the box, with track lines, which keeps everyone a little more on their toes. I have noticed that there’s what you might call a “go to” guy in every department. On…

Read more The Go-To Guy

As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American AgendaAs Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins

As Texas goes, says Collins, so goes the nation, and there are some revelatory and I must admit pretty horrifying details about how the state of Texas has led the way in banking laws, education (especially sex education, or embargo of), textbooks, global warming, immigration and voters' rights, written with that lighthearted acerbity we enjoy so much in her NYT opinion column. In the prologue she writes

Texas banking laws set the stage for the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. The 2008 economic meltdown was the product of a financial deregulation that was the work of/Texas senator Phil Gramm. Our energy policy is the way it is in large part because Texas politicians and Texas special interests like it that way...Schools from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, have been remade, reorganized, and sometimes totally upended under a federal law based on Texas education reform. For several generations, our kids have been reading textbooks written with an eye to Texas sensibilities. Texas presidents have the led the country into every land war the United States has been involved in since Vietnam.

This wasn't really a book, it was a 200-page column with a bunch of appendices supporting her points. I wonder if she wasn't perhaps rushing to print before her premise became dated, because I found at least two gaping holes in her logic.

1. She doesn't talk near enough about the Hispanic population of Texas, which in number is rapidly overtaking the Anglo population of Texas. Anglo Texans are largely Republican. Hispanic Texans are largely Democrat. Texas is on the brink of going blue in a big way. I wish she'd spent more time with guys like San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. There is the future of Texas.

2. She also makes no reference to e-books, which is on its own cusp, that of revolutionizing textbooks. I speak from personal experience here: Changing the text of an ebook is so easy compared to changing the text of a print book. So what if Texas wants to axe the New Deal or evolution or global warming or separation of church and state out of its textbooks? Let 'em. In ebooks, the rest of the states can add all those subjects right back in with relatively few labor costs. And there is the future of textbooks.

This is a book worth reading, but it might have been more accurate to have called it "As Texas Went."

Click here to read all my Goodreads reviews

# Permanent link to As Texas Went

All Engineers, All the Time

[from the vaults, 2007] April 2 It’s 94F on the bridge. It’s 120F in the engine room. See the photo of PO Warren Grimes next to the thermometer if you don’t believe me. I got the engineering tour today courtesy of EO LT Todd Raybon. First thing required, steel-toed boots, borrowed from LTJG Morgan…

Read more All Engineers, All the Time

A Day Off

[from the vaults, 2007] April 1 A real day off – the first since the ship left San Francisco 20 days ago. No drills, no go fast alerts, no fishing vessels who might be smuggling migrants, no haring off after ghost radar contacts. Palm Sunday services were the only organized event. Sun and seas…

Read more A Day Off

...I hate books all the time. Loathe them, even. I mostly write about books I love, but those books have beaten the odds. I throw books across the room. I throw them down the stairs. I throw them in the trash, lest they fasten themselves to some other human and drain away even more irreplaceable hours from humanity’s collective finite total.

# Permanent link to Lev Grossman Hates This Book So Much

No Reveille

[from the vaults, 2007] March 31 When I was up in the bow last night I saw thunderheads developing off our stern, and this morning they paid off with thunder, lightning and rain. At 0730 they were mopping up the residue in the bridge. Ops (LT James Terrell) is standing the four to eight…

Read more No Reveille

I confess, I did not love Instruments of Darkness, the first of the Imogen Robertson Georgian murdery mystery series. The writing was fine, but I couldn't warm up to the characters.

But. Now I have read Anatomy of Murder, the second in the series, and I want to go back and reread the first one because obviously my literary tastebuds were malfuntioning for a while there.

It's London, 1781. A body is discovered floating in the Thames, and spymaster Palmer suspects the dead man was carrying British secrets to the French. To discover what he was doing and who he was working with, Palmer enlists the aid of gentlewoman Harriet Westerman and reclusive anatomist Gabriel Crowther, who made themselves notorious the year before when they unraveled the case of the missing heir of Thornleigh Hall.

The setting is every bit as much the star of this show as the plot and the characters, as in

London rolled over in its bed and yawned at the approaching morning, then cursed it. In the churches, old men turned large keys in the doors and shoved them cautiously open, letting the darkness out before the first worshipers found their way in. Those who had got enough pennies together to drink the night before, flinched at the dawn and their empty pockets. In the better houses, young girls, their hands already worn red with work and cold water, cleaned the grates and set the fires, dreaming of the narrow beds they had just left. In the rookeries the day began with angry growls and hands grasping for what comfort they could find in the dark. Another day to live through.

Robertson has chosen to tell part of the story through the eyes of two characters who live near the bottom of society, and not since Dickens has poverty been rendered with more immediacy. I was hungry and cold a lot, and I kept wanting to put Sam in a bathtub and scrub him down.

Harriet's husband has suffered a head injury at sea that has left him dangerous to those he loves. At present he is confined under a doctor's care, so Harriet, with time on her hands and in spite of the disapproval of her family, accepts Palmer's commission.

That was the last moment when it occurred to Harriet that she still had time to withdraw. She could picture the scene upstairs--Lady Susan entertaining the younger children with Rachel, and Mrs. Service at their side--and wondered to herself if she might join them, might be free and easy, and foul neither her mind nor her reputation with further association with violent death. Then she thought of her husband and felt, with a sensation like sand running through her hands, that her days of ease were perhaps in any case over. She might join the party upstairs, but at present she would only bring darkness with her...Let Palmer make use of her, then.

Crowther does, too, in spite of

When Crowther arrived to accompany Mrs. Westerman to their assignation with Mr. Palmer, he walked in on such a scene of domestic harmony and goodwill that he felt as if someone had doused him with a pail full with the milk of human kindness.

Crowther is a misanthrope of epic proportions, due to a past that reveals itself slowly over the course of the novel. The ensemble cast is equally good, from the determined Mr. Palmer, the deplorable Lord Carmichael and the suave Lord Sandwich, to the tarot-card reading witch Jocasta, the lost boy Sam, and the patriotic crook Malloy. There is opera, though Harriet and Crowther both be tone deaf to it, and a galloping ventre a terre denouement that will first thrill you and then break your heart.

I might pick a few nits over the too-neat tying up of several plots lines and the, no, that would give too much away so never mind. And never mind anyway. I really enjoyed this one.

Once again, Barbara Peters at the Poisoned Pen proved the indispensability of the indie bookstore by insisting I read these books. In her honor, the buy links are to the Poisoned Pen. Support your local bookstore!

# Permanent link to Dickens would have felt right at home.