Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Reviews: The Detroit True Crime Chronicles

The Detroit True Crime Chronicles
edited by Scott Burnstein
Jimmy Hoffa. Demetrius Holloway. Young Boys Incorporated (YBI). The A-Team. Pony Down. Best Friends. The Devil's Diciples(sic). Black Jack Tocco. The Chambers Brothers. Tony Jack Giacalone. Maserati Rick. White Boy Rick. Chester Campbell. Henry "Blaze" Marzette. Billy Jack Giacalone. The Purple Gang. Taco Bowman. Louis Akrawi. Papa John Priziola. Bernie "The Hammer" Marchesani. Rocking Reggie Brown. Eddie Jackson. Big Ed Hanserd. Joe Zerelli.  

Many of those names will be familiar to those who are interested in organized crime or to those who grew up in Detroit proper or more generally Southeast Michigan. The same way that some people remember where they were when John Lennon or JFK were shot I remember where I was when I heard that Demetrius Holloway had been murdered at a popular downtown clothing store. People may not realize that Detroit area mafiosi and gangsters were the inspiration behind such films and music such as Absence of Malice, New Jack City, and The Ten Crack Commandments

I grew up close to ground zero for the infamous drug gang YBI. Some people in my neighborhood worked for folks in that group. I recall some of the events referenced in this book. The funny thing was is that looking back as bad as things were back then I don't remember at the time thinking that I lived in an extraordinarily violent city. It's a cliche but with some notable and fortunately rare exceptions most of the violence was contained among people who were already in that life. Of course my experience was shaped by having extremely strict parents who pretty much saw to it that I went to school and came home without going almost anywhere else. Perhaps other Detroiters would have different memories of those days.

Book Reviews: The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki
by Joanne M. Harris
I really enjoy Norse mythology. It has a lot of cynicism, doom, dread, bad a$$ boasts, and ultimately hope. It's quite similar to blues in many ways. So I was all set to enjoy this book. And I did. Loki is in the Norse eschatological sense a leading force of evil. But he didn't start out that way. In most of the stories that have been passed down Loki is more a trickster. He's the Norse incarnation of the archetype demonstrated in other myths/religions/stories by such Gods or heroes as Eshu, Anansi, Odysseus, Robin Goodfellow, Brer Rabbit, Bugs Bunny and so on. The trickster is not necessarily evil but he is usually untrustworthy, much as the name suggests. Loki lived up to that name in the various Norse stories. 

Loki was useful to the Gods (Aesir and Vanir). He often got them out of serious trouble. Of course he usually was the one who got them into the trouble in the first place. Loquacious, elegant, attractive, intelligent, gender-fluid, and often vindictive, Loki is the quintessential bad boy joker. As mentioned, in most of the stories that remain, Loki wasn't always a bad sort. It's just that his sense of humor wasn't always shared by everyone. Over time his jokes, tricks and pranks become progressively more malicious until he commits an act which can't possibly be forgiven. This leads to his expulsion from Asgard and the long foretold Ragnarok, or final battle between good and evil, which will destroy all of existence. This is all foretold which of course brings the age old debate between free will and determinism into the forefront.

Harris reworks the grim serious stilted language of the Norse eddas into something much easier to read and fun in a different sort of way. Harris adds her own ideas to the stories. She will make you wonder if previous translators missed some important nuances. She decides to tell everything from Loki's point of view. He is of course a highly unreliable narrator. To hear Loki tell it he was just a free fire spirit of Chaos, minding his own business until Odin named him and thus summoned him, somewhat against his will, into the material planes of existence. Loki becomes Odin's blood brother. Odin swears unending hospitality to Loki. Loki thinks that Odin uses him to do the things that he can't be seen to support. People may love God but no one likes the Angel of Death or wants to lose their firstborn. 

Mary Kay Letourneau is Unrepentant

In some states the age of consent is sixteen. That is likely a leftover from the times when people who weren't married by their early twenties at the latest were thought to have something profoundly wrong with them, morally or otherwise. I think laws notwithstanding, today most adults would look askance at a thirty-four year old adult who decided to get busy with a sixteen year old.

There is no state where the age of consent is lower than sixteen. Most normal people in the United States recognize that no matter what they look like or say, people below the age of sixteen are children. Adults shouldn't pursue sexual relations with children. That's abuse. That's wrong. You may remember that thirty-four year old Seattle area married teacher Mary Kay Letourneau had sex with raped her sixth grade student, Vili Fualaau, then twelve years old. Curiously enough one could make the argument that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Letourneau's father, John Schmitz, (a Holocaust denier, US Representative, Presidential candidate, segregationist, and someone so noxious that he was expelled from the John Birch Society) also had an extramarital affair with a (former) student, though at least he was prudent enough to do his thing with a woman who was an adult. Letourneau had no such age scruples. Disgusted, her husband divorced her and got custody of their children.

Despite an initial slap on the wrist, legally speaking, Letourneau would not stay away from Fualaau, becoming pregnant twice and ending up with a prison sentence of a little over seven years. I think that sentence was still too light all things considered. Likely she benefited from her father's influence, as well as that of her brothers, who are heavy hitters in Republican circles. Anyway all that was a long time ago. Letourneau and Fualaau married after Letourneau's release from prison. Letourneau and Fualaau are still married. He's 34. She's 56. The couple's children are now adults. The couple recently sat down for an interview with an Australian television show. 

Maine Moose Poop Artwork

This woman sounds exactly like a character out of a Stephen King novel. Her distinctive accent notwithstanding, I don't think I would want to purchase a damn thing that she's selling. Not one thing. But YMMV. I guess this is good old Yankee ingenuity and entrepreneurship in action. Stay classy Maine.

SOMERVILLE, Maine (WABI) - One person's trash is another's treasure.

There's a woman in Maine who sells arts and crafts that she makes in her own home that takes THAT saying to a whole new level. Mary Winchenbach became something of a viral sensation in the past few days following her stint at the Common Ground Fair.

There's a lot going on at her Somerville home. There are two adults, three kids, more than 60 animals, some fish, and a whole bunch of moose turds.
Winchenbach runs Tirdy Works, making artwork from the stuff moose leave behind. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What is Justice?

I don't know whether Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Ford during his time in high school. I doubt most other people do either, regardless of how much they bloviate on twitter, Fox, or MSNBC.
After today's Senate hearing I may or may not move in either direction as to my belief in the story.

But there are a few issues raised by the reaction by some to this accusation which are to put it mildly, troubling.  It is true that Kavanaugh is not on criminal trial, has no inalienable right to be on the Supreme Court, and thus can not lay claim to the protective standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt". But whether you support or do not support Kavanaugh there are some standards which are or rather should be universally accepted by Americans, at least fair minded ones. If we want to get rid of these standards we might as well get rid of the justice system and the country altogether. Because neither institution holds together without these standards. If we don't want mob rule then we have to keep these basic protections in mind.

Innocent until proven guilty
Just because someone makes a claim doesn't mean that the claim is true. Even if we believe that the claim is true we still must go thru the motions necessary to prove guilt. Now what's necessary to prove "guilt" in a criminal trial where someone's life or freedom is at stake is a greater burden than what's necessary to prove guilt in trying to figure out who stole your iced coffee from the office refrigerator. But even in the latter case, just saying that the new guy did it doesn't make it so.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Wants to Remove Trump?

It's a stock cliche in sitcoms. Someone, either a hapless husband or a low ranking worker, makes fun of his termagant wife or vindictive boss. Everyone around him laughs. The newly minted comedian proceeds to make nastier jokes, do impressions, or sell wolf tickets about how if his wife or boss gives him any lip, he'll show his wife just who wears the pants in this family, knock his boss into the middle of next week, or tell his boss to take this job and shove it someplace that's difficult to remove. Unfortunately the man doesn't notice that his audience has stopped laughing, has drifted away, or is suddenly pretending that his jokes are offensive. Then the man turns around to see an enraged wife or boss standing there glaring at him. At this point the man pretends that he has temporarily lost his mind,  claims to be his long lost twin brother, says he's in the wrong office/home or throws himself on the often non-existent mercies of his wife or boss.

It's a funny cliche. Perhaps Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein can appreciate the humor involved in this old bit. Maybe Rosenstein hopes that his boss, President Trump can find something to laugh about in the reports that Rosenstein was considering wearing a wire around Trump and attempting the modern equivalent of a palace coup.

WASHINGTON — The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.

Movie Reviews: Upgrade, Detective Story

directed by Leigh Whannell
This is a low budget sci-fi/thriller film that takes some very old tropes and ideas and wraps them up in fresh packaging to build an entertaining story. The film loses some steam in the middle. I think that the viewer will sooner rather than later pick up on the story twists and ending. But getting there was still fun. Some human fears and worries are consistent across time and space. I remember when my maternal grandfather led evening prayers he would always thank God for giving him and his another day of health and life. I didn't then appreciate my grandfather's emotions. After all most nine year-olds have little concept of aging, tiredness, body decline, disease, and death. But now, all these years later I can understand my grandfather's gratitude. I was reminded of that because one theme of Upgrade is how quickly and randomly our health or lives can be taken from us. 

The other important theme in Upgrade is how much we would give to get our health and/or the lives of our loved ones back. Although Upgrade has not a single solitary speck of the supernatural, Upgrade still riffs on deals made with otherworldy entities. The horror author H.P. Lovecraft wrote that wizards should be careful dealing with demons or the dead and to "do not call up any which you cannot put down". Upgrade emphasizes that. The movie nods to authors like Phillip Dick and William Gibson. What is it that makes us human? Can that spark of humanity be isolated and reproduced? Can it be transferred?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Movie Reviews: Hereditary

directed by Ari Aster
Now this is how horror movies should be done. 
Calling Hereditary a horror film doesn't really do it justice as many modern genre films have often been excuses to showcase nubile, buff actors in various stages of undress being slaughtered in increasing inventive yet ultimately boring ways. This is a throwback horror film that reaches back to the classics. Think about such films as Rosemary's Baby or The ExorcistHereditary's scares are as much psychological and emotional as they are of the supernatural variety. There's not any cheap violence here. Sex is non-existent. Some might argue that sexual urges manifest themselves in other, more Freudian, ways, but that's up to the viewer's interpretation. There are few movies, especially horror movies, that really leave much of an impression on me. This one did. It might do the same thing for the viewer. 

I didn't realize it initially, but this film shares some DNA with the movie The Sixth Sense, and not just because Toni Collette was in both films. Each film has some insights about family, loss and parenthood, or more specifically motherhood. There's also a possible connection with Stephen King's scary short story, "Gramma" and the Rob Zombie movie The Lords of Salem.

We are each the sum of our experiences and genetics plus that something extra that different people quantify in different ways. Genetics and family environment can leave a heavy mark on people, for good or for bad. Hereditary digs deep into these questions. It would be an emotionally heavy film even without any supernatural overtones. Hereditary mostly eschews the jump scares for some some real terrors. Have you ever lost anyone you loved? Have you lost someone you loved long before you thought their time was up? Both experiences can hurt very badly. 

Book Reviews: Bad Blood

Bad Blood
by John Carreyrou
This is a real life thriller written by a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who was one of the first people in the media to puncture the lies and bovine excrement put out by Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani about their startup company Theranos. Theranos wanted to become famous for revolutionizing blood testing and laboratory science. Theranos' claim to fame was proprietary finger prick technology devices that were supposed to be able to test for hundreds of different diseases from very tiny blood samples. The results could then be wirelessly and securely transmitted to a patient's doctors. The idea was that by using this process, everyone would save time and expensive lab space. Additionally people who didn't like going into doctor's offices or labs for venous blood draws would be more likely to use the finger prick devices. 

And most importantly by catching diseases or conditions far earlier than anyone else, Theranos would be saving lives across the world. As an investor wouldn't you like to get in on the ground floor of a company like that? Why sure you would! It would be akin to being in at the beginning of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix,  Instagram, Microsoft, or Apple-the startup company closest to Holmes' heart. Holmes consciously modeled herself after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, copying Jobs' black turtlenecks , his self-important quotes and even his deep voice. Holmes tried to pitch her normal alto down to the male tenor or even baritone range. This sounded utterly ridiculous.

It was particularly noticeable on the occasions when Holmes couldn't keep up the fakery or relaxed and forgot to speak in the male range. I guess no one ever called Holmes on it because her peers and investors didn't care what she sounded like as long as she dangled the possibility of millions or even billions in front of them. And Holmes' subordinates or employees learned very quickly that annoying, irritating, or mocking Holmes wasn't very healthy. Holmes and especially her number two, and lover, Balwani ran Theranos via pure intimidation. More on that in a minute. Arguably they had to run the company via intimidation because very little of Theranos' product worked. When things didn't work Holmes didn't come up with new ideas or new products. No. She lied. She faked tests. She hid results from regulators.  She altered results.

Savannah Sprague: Cheerleader Holds Court In The Streets

Just because someone is smaller than you or seemingly less threatening doesn't mean that they will not kick your a$$ six ways to Sunday if you start something with them. As Peter Tosh sang, "I'm like a stepping razor/Don't watch my size. I'm dangerous." It's always smart to keep your hands to yourself unless you are forced into a situation where you must practice the art of self-defense. Because if you run around starting fights eventually you'll run into someone who has no problem ending them. Fortunately in this situation it doesn't look as if anyone was seriously hurt. A longer version of this video showed the larger girl turning the tables somewhat but all in all I would have to give the decision to the cheerleader. 

Once the cheerleader was assaulted she did not hesitate to defend herself against the larger girl. I hope that the aggressor will think twice before starting another fight. Unfortunately life is full of people who will attack you until you have demonstrated to their satisfaction that the cost to them will be too high. So it goes. 

A pint-size cheerleader in California pummeled another girl who challenged her to a fight while still in her uniform, a dramatic video shows. The footage, posted early Saturday, purportedly shows Savannah Sprague, a cheerleader for Clayton Valley Charter High School, brutally beating an unidentified girl who had just challenged her to a fight as the cheerleader sat at a table in Concord while surrounded by other youngsters, some still holding their backpacks.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh: Attempted Rapist???

Do you remember what you were doing in high school? You probably do if like the fictional Al Bundy, from the sitcom Married with Children, high school turned out to be the high point of your life. Many of us however may start to forget some details of our high school career, especially once we get beyond our thirties or forties and/or move away from where we went to high school. 

So it goes. But if in high school you were a victim of attempted rape or assault or you committed a rape or sexual assault, I think you would probably remember that. Unfortunately, for those of us who weren't there, it is difficult if not impossible to discover the truth when one person accuses another person or persons of sexual assault thirty some odd years after high school. 

That is what happened to Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Kennedy. An anonymous constituent of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein apparently sent Feinstein and her Congresswoman a letter in July accusing Kavanaugh of attempted rape in the early eighties. Feinstein didn't share this letter with her colleagues until a few days ago.  On Thursday she referred the matter to the FBI. 

On Thursday, Senate Democrats disclosed that they had referred a complaint regarding President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the F.B.I. for investigation. The complaint came from a woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were both in high school, more than thirty years ago.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Movie Reviews: Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2
directed by David Leitch
If you loved the first movie, you'll probably like the sequel. Like the James Bond movies, there is a plot contrivance to ensure that the titular motormouth hero is single and free to mingle again. 

Unlike the hero from the Bond movies Deadpool is not necessarily 100% straight and/or solely interested in leggy, busty, or otherwise attractive women. YMMV on this. At this time in American culture it would actually be edgier and more rebellious if a hero was straight and full of faith instead of being sexually flexible and/or cynical. Deadpool and similar antiheroes have finally reached diminishing returns for me. Some jokes were funny but many of them weren't. Humor is a very flexible personal thing though so your enjoyment of this film may all depend on your mood. If a joke uses racial or sexual humor does it matter to you if it's coming from a good place or bad place as long as the joke is funny? I didn't think that the jokes were based in contempt or hate or anything like that. But I just didn't see them as hilarious. 

I think many jokes were aimed at people who are insecure about themselves. Other jokes were socio-political. My understanding is that the movie character is broadly similar to the comic. Whatever. The crude humor seems turned up from the first film. I just happen to have reached my limit with the constant stream of male anatomy references or homosexual/homoerotic jokes. 

Detroit Tigers Announcers Allegedly Fight

I don't follow baseball much. I really haven't since Ernie Harwell died. So I didn't know that two announcers for my local team, the Detroit Tigers, Rod Allen and Mario Impemba, allegedly weren't that friendly with each other, allegedly didn't like each other, and allegedly got into a physical fracas that may or may not have started over the placement or use of a chair in the studio. Allegedly. Their employer, Fox Sports Detroit, isn't saying who started it or who was at fault. So far neither man has been fired. But Fox Sports Detroit did reveal that neither man would be back to announce the Tigers' twenty or so remaining games.

Rod Allen and Mario Impemba will not be on TV for the remainder of the season. The Detroit Tigers broadcasters will not be scheduled for future Tigers telecasts this season, Fox Sports Detroit said in a statement on Friday. Allen and Impemba were involved in a physical altercation immediately after Tuesday's road game against the Chicago White Sox. They were sent home and were not part of the broadcast team in Wednesday's series finale.

"After speaking with all involved parties, FOX Sports Detroit has decided not to schedule Rod Allen and Mario Impemba for any future Tigers telecasts this season," the statement read. "Since this is an internal matter, we will have no further comment." Some media outlets reported that Allen came from behind and put a choke hold on Impemba during Tuesday’s fracas, but Allen’s agent, Tom Shaer, told the Free Press those claims were false.

White Dallas Cop Enters Wrong Home and Kills Black Man

I want you to imagine that you're peacefully resting, reading, sleeping or just doing whatever you like to do in your own home. 
You hear someone banging on your door. You go to see who's at the door. An armed police officer enters your home without apparent permission and without warrant because she supposedly thinks that this is her home. She then shoots you dead because you're an "intruder" in "her" home. A cynic might say that that scenario is the basic theme of American history and the European invasion of the New World. Well maybe. But it's also the tragedy that occurred to one Botham Shem Jean, a recent college graduate and associate at Price Waterhouse Coopers. I would hope that based on what the facts of the case seem to be now, that the officer who took Mr. Jean's life spends some time in prison and is not allowed to ever again have a weapon or a job as a police officer.

Based on past events though, you never know. I would not be surprised if in the next few days some racist digs up pictures of Mr. Jean playing pee-wee football from the fourth grade to "prove" that he was some sort of "thug" who got what he deserved. And if the officer is attractive, cries a lot, or gets the right sort of people on her jury she may well be acquitted. Who can say. It's funny that all the people who were wailing and gnashing their teeth and wetting their pants over Colin Kapernick and other Black athletes protesting police violence against Black people so far don't seem to have shown the same level of outrage over Mr. Jean's murder.  I sure they will. Any second now...

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Open Offices Stink!

I work in the information technology field. I recently spent a few days in training. There's a new implementation process being rolled out for IT employees. This process will supposedly reduce the time elapsed between the point that a change request (user request/inquiry, production breakdown, new project, etc.) is made and the point when the change request is completed. This will theoretically save the company time and money- something that upper management is always looking to do- as well as making workers more productive, also a key management goal. It's also supposed to reduce worker stress. 

One big change required is the virtual elimination of worker privacy from the environment. Most people will no longer have offices or even semi-private cubicles. Everyone except the most important executives or managers (at least three pay grades up from me) will sit at open tables.

This will allow people to share work. Sharing work is not only encouraged, it's required. No one will be allowed to analyze problems or write code by themselves or without real time peer review. Almost all work will be done by groups of two or more people. Team members will share pc's and monitors. Anything showing on "your" monitor will also show on two or three other monitors. In order to further limit "distractions", private phones linked to a particular worker will be discouraged and phased out. Instead there will be conference rooms for any phone conversations. Everyone will have multiple daily meetings where they stand up in front of their department and list their current accomplishments, remaining tasks, and areas where they might need help.

I don't doubt that some of these changes could result in more robust solutions produced sooner. And that is good. However as the old joke goes just because it takes one woman nine months to deliver a baby doesn't mean that you can hire nine women and deliver a baby in one month.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Movie Reviews: Arizona

directed by Jonathan Watson
Shooting someone in the head is not by definition, funny.
There are some people who can mix comedy and violence and have it work out ok (Tarantino and all of his copycats, certain horror movie directors, The first Hangover movie, etc). But it's a really thin line to walk. Not everyone can do it. Watson shows that in this movie at least he's unable to keep the balance. I can enjoy a well done violent black comedy. This wasn't that movie. There wasn't anything comic about the situations or most of the characters. So because there was little humor all that's left is sex and violence. There's not a whole lot of sex appeal, though the lead female character takes her top off at a (ahem) "climatic" moment for reasons, but there's a tremendous amount of violence. 

I wonder if the director or producer changed the writer's original vision. It felt like it. Or maybe I only think that because I can't imagine how anyone watched the film's final cut before release and thought that it was funny, even in a very dark sardonic way. 

This movie felt like two movies were jammed together: a serial killer film and a comic family breakup film. It briefly jumped back and forth between both styles before veering suddenly and sharply to the serial killer film. After it did that the "jokes" fell increasingly flat. Arizona tries to market itself as a satire about greed and chicanery in the real estate market, specifically in the 2008-2009 meltdown and recession.  But satire ought to be smart. Satire ought to have something to say about the subject it's addressing. Arizona doesn't have much to say. It's just a slasher movie masquerading as a black comedy. The male lead Danny McBride, does a great job playing a blustering bully but his performance really belonged in another film.

Queen Fredegund

Didn't I tell you no back talk?
Dark Ages Europe was no place for shrinking violets. Every five minutes or so Europe experienced a barbarian invasion, peasant revolt, plague outbreak, religious war, an ambitious uncle making a power play, or some zealot declaring himself the local ruler and ordering that partisans of the previous administration be hanged, drawn, and quartered at the new Disneyland opening. With a few exceptions nice rulers finished last. Whether in fiction or reality, it's hard for a king or queen to be good.

But even by 6th Century standards, the Frankish Queen Fredegund stood out as a take no prisoners take no s*** kind of woman who never hesitated to lay hands on people who did her wrong, who might be thinking about doing her wrong, who were related to people who did her wrong, or who just happened to cross her path when she was in a vindictive mood, which by general accounts, was most of the time. Fredegund was quite possibly the earliest archetype for the abusive stepmother/wicked Queen found in Western European folktales later collated by the Grimm Brothers.

Fredegund began her rise to power as a lady-in-waiting for a Frankish Queen. You know the thing that Kings like to do with their Queen's ladies-in-waiting? Fredegund was apparently very skilled at that, soon becoming the number one concubine. Fredegund convinced King Chilperic to divorce his wife and put her in a convent. 

The King assented to Fredegund's wish, but married someone else. Fredegund bided her time. Not even a year had passed before the King's new wife, Galswintha, was found strangled to death. Possibly realizing that it wasn't particularly healthy to upset Fredegund, King Chilperic finally married her. Galswintha's relatives weren't thrilled with this turn of events. They wanted to kill Fredegund and King Chilperic several times over. Galswintha's sister, Brunnhilde, was the wife of King Chilperic's brother, King Sigebert. So a family feud started. But Fredegund wasn't the one to mess with. It was apparently Fredegund, not her husband who most vigorously prosecuted the war. She may have led armies in the field. Fredegund planned and ordered the successful assassination of her brother-in-law, King Sigebert, ending the war. 

Book Reviews: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
by Susanna Clarke
Life is too short not to read everything you can. Why wait for one author to complete his magnum opus when the world is crammed with impressive authors. I had heard good things about the Clarke debut novel which was published back in 2004. I didn't purchase the book until early 2016. Obviously I just got around to reading it. I am still working on the estimated two hundred unread books in my library. This book was a serious investment in time. It took me more than a few weeks to finish. My trade softcover edition was just over 800 pages. And there were footnotes. Boy were there footnotes. 

This novel shows Clarke to be an author of both conventional stylings and unique individual ideas. Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell makes definite allusions to her co-national authors who came before her such as the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, and above all Jane Austen-at least in tone if not subject. There might be a little Tolkien and Dunsany sprinkled in for flavor.

I thought this book was slow going at first. Like the older British novelists mentioned, Clarke is a very descriptive writer. She transports the reader back to Regency England/Napoleonic Era. She pays immense attention to detail. Some minutiae will be important to later plot twists and turns. The vast majority, however, is only used to set the table. If you are accustomed to writers who employ a curt and concise let's get to the action style, Clarke will either be a breath of fresh air or a struggle. She's built an alternate history that feels very very real.

In the early 1800s the English are in a funk. Napoleon is kicking behind and taking names in his European wars. The King is unfit. And magic is gone. There are still societies of magicians, but they are theoretical magicians. They argue about how magic used to be performed, which magicians had the help of fairies (elves), whatever happened to the greatest magician of them all, John Uskglass, and whether magic should be performed by anyone who's not a Christian English gentleman. But these men can't cast a spell, enchant an item, or do anything magical. They are like people who have purchased expensive guitars, pianos, horns, violins, amps, and music theory books, and who know all of the musician stage flourishes, but who can't play a single note of music.

Random Rants

To most people and on most days I am a calm non-confrontational live and let live sort of fellow. Life is too short to be mean or angry all the time. I'm the guy who lets people merge on the expressway or allows someone with only a few items to cut in front of me at the grocery checkout lane. But there are some people or incidents that can work my proverbial last nerve and as my maternal relatives used to say, make me "lose my religion".

1) People who park or stand in front of LARGE no standing/no parking/fire lane signs or in handicapped spaces. If I were a cop I wouldn't ticket people for most minor infractions. Often a curt warning is enough to change behavior. But it takes a special sort of contempt for the law and everyone else to park in front of a sign that states no parking just because you don't feel like walking an extra few yards to whatever store you're patronizing. If I were a cop I would ticket everyone who did that. No exceptions. Forget about being polite. I would start by asking the driver "So are you stupid, illiterate or both?"  I have and had firefighters in my family. If there is a fire they really do need access to the fire lanes. Similarly if you're not handicapped then why the hell are you parking in a handicapped space. If it's that important to you, go have a horrific car accident or obtain some condition that leaves you enfeebled. I'm betting you would trade access to that handicapped space to have your full health and mobility back.

2) Grocery store clerks who are sick or have poor hygiene.  I'm picky about what I eat and what or who I have in my home. I know that we all have immune systems that work diligently to remove anything from our body that isn't us. But I say why give your white blood cells more work to do. With age our immune systems lose a step or two. Things they would have quickly eliminated in your youth can give them a run for the money when you're older. I don't like it when I'm in line to purchase groceries and the clerk who will handle my food is having a coughing or sneezing fit, picking her nose, scratching his private parts, digging in his ear, or taking out a visibly mucus soaked handkerchief to vigorously blow his nose right before reaching out to handle the food I intend to consume. If you're sick stay home. And if you need to do some personal grooming, please take a break to do that in private in the restroom.