Sunday, July 18, 2004

Book trading site

Thought I had a great idea for a new web site for a minute; a book-trading site, where you would agree to send used books to other members if they would send books to you.  I know, I know, trading sites don't make profits and went out in the 90's, but I don't think that's the goal; any more than the little old men in carpet slippers who run used brick-and-mortar bookstores are really in it to make a profit.   The goal is to get around the godawful prices of books these days, and to find them nice homes when you're done with them.
But I did a quick search before I really started to look into it, and I found this one.  I skimmed for reviews and users, and found...nothing.  I don't think they've been open for more than three months, so I'm thinking I just missed the boat here.  Well, book trading is my goal, so I'll give them a try.  Hope they don't do anything evil with my credit card number.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Went to Chicago for the weekend.  It's turned into an annual event for us, just to go up and visit some cool stuff; the art museum, the field museum; the Navy Pier.  Well, that last one wasn't so hot - somehow I just can't get too excited about a place that charges a buck for a refill of iced tea.   I hate to think what their profit margin on that must be.  We visited the children's museum too, which was...not terrible.  They had some nice stuff for the two-year-old, but it was pretty jammed together.  They could have used quite a bit more space.  The children's museums in Indianapolis and Bloomington - and Cincinnati, for that matter - are nicer.
But of course, the highlight of Chicago for me is the museum campus.  We only went to the Field Museum this year, but the aquarium and the other museums can't be beat.  We actually walked from the Navy Pier to the campus this year - a couple of miles, and pushing a stroller!
Topped it off with a quick visit to Indiana Dunes.  We went, unprepared, to the beach.   Swimming in Lake Michigan beats swimming in Monroe Lake, surprisingly enough.  The visit was way too short.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Book review: Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke

Okay, so I'm a little late with this one. But at least I read it, and all the way through; bought it on eBay for $15 and you couldn't have done that six months ago.

It's a good book. It opens with a description of what Clarke was doing on September 11, and it is riveting. It's exciting to hear what was going on at the White House: "They did what? What else can they do? Shut down this! Close that! Scramble the fighters!" Very cool stuff.

Clarke is clearly a Clinton fan. I was at Goodwill a few weeks ago and picked up George Stephanopoulos' autobiography, so I've read two sympathetic books in the last few weeks, and my opinion of Clinton has gone up a lot. I always thought he was a good president due to his domestic agenda, the balancing of the budget, and the roaring economy, but I was at least willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and say that he's done an okay job against terrorism. When the Iraq war started, I was on-the-fence to negative, thinking that the war would probably do no more harm than good. The utter incompetence at the peace process, however, has pretty much turned me into an Anyone-But-Bush'er.

According to Clarke, however, Bush has totally screwed up the war against terrorism as well. Starting with the lack of planning that allowed 9/11 to happen, followed by an indecisive response in Afghanistan, and of course the leap to conclusions that started the Iraq war, Clarke shreds the Bush administration top to bottom. I can't say for sure that it deserves to be shredded, from my own knowledge; more reading is needed here.

That's the big talking point of the book, of course. We've all seen the headlines: "Former Bush aide writes tell-all!" The fact is, though, the Bush administration is covered pretty quickly in the last couple of chapters. The meat of the book is about the Clinton administration, and the claim that Clarke makes that I'm surprised didn't get a lot of airplay, was the claim that Clinton did a darn good job against terrorism. Clarke blames bureaucracy and the intelligence services for the failures on the Clinton watch.

So is it true? I can't say it is for sure. But what I do know is that 9/11 happened under the Bush administration, which is demonstrably incompetent at so many things, and it sure wouldn't surprise me to find that "Preventing Major Terrorist Attacks" is another area where Bush gets a failing grade.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Counterterrorism Wiki

So I started reading Against All Enemies this week. I'll do a book review of that when I get done, too, but the thing that really strikes me is how hard it is to follow all the information in it. I'm not reading it with an agenda - well, yes I am, Bush stinks - so trying to really understand in my head what was going on is pretty tough. And Clarke does a lot of things like blaming the CIA and FBI for problems, where I'm sure that if I read a book about the CIA I'd hear a pretty different version of events. So I went over to SeedWiki and started up a CounterTerrorism wiki. What I've written on it so far is just a few things and links I've found, but I really only have one goal for it - understanding what the heck Clarke is talking about. Due to the nature of Wiki's, of course, it may end up being something else entirely.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


My child is nearly three. It won't be long before we have to think about a school for him. One of my top choices is Harmony School, but I wonder if I can be accused of elitism if I want to send him to a private school? I think my dad would say he needs to be exposed to children of diferent backgrounds than us, and I am sympathetic to that. But some kinds of diversity I don't want. For example, I would be perfectly happy not having him exposed to:

- Students who don't feel that education is important.

- Students who believe that the world owes them a living.

- Students who are just marking time until they are legally allowed to leave school.

- Lawyers.

Well, OK, I suppose that last one isn't a big issue in preschool.

So am I an elitist?

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Book review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

For the sake of full disclosure, I'm a big Pratchett fan. I breathlessly wait for every new novel and run out and buy it as soon as it comes out. (In paperback, that is. I'm not made of money here.) So it's convenient that in his recent forays into the children's market (like Amazing Maurice), if there was ever a hardback version I didn't see it, and got to buy the paperback version as soon as I knew about it.

But even so, I was hesitant to read Maurice. A good author for grownups does not necessarily make a good author for kids, and I was very ready to be disappointed with what made the Discworld interesting for kids. But I wasn't. When you read Pratchett, you can always expect to see the conventional wisdom turned on its head. The witches are heroes, the handsome prince is a bad guy. If you stay true to yourself and follow your dreams, you'll get your rear kicked by the guy down the street who works for a living. And I was very glad to see this pattern continuing in Wee Free Men.

As a matter of fact, it's hard to say what really makes this a kid's book. "Teen fiction" is where you'll find it categorized, but the only difference, really, between this and any other Discworld book is maybe just a slight lack of depth in the characters. Even then, it's just as likely that they will show up in other books to become more rounded out. The Nac Mac Feegle have already appeared in Nanny Ogg's kitchen, for example, and I read one review claiming that the aerial Night Watch officer in that book was one as well, although I missed that when I read it. I'll check more carefully on my next read.

And it has to be said, Tiffany Aching, the nine-year-old pre-witch, is a compelling character. It'll be clear to readers familiar with the series that she has all the right attributes to be a talented witch, unlike, for example, Magrat Garlick, or Tiffany's would-be mentor, Miss Tick. Tiffany not only has the smarts, but also the sense to know when it's better to whomp a monster on the head with a frying pan rather than close her eyes and magic it away. I wonder if we'll get to watch her growing through her teen years to adulthood, like Death's granddaughter Susan. We can hope.

All in all, I just have to think of this book as A Discworld Book, and that is how I will categorize future Pratchett "teen fiction" offerings; to be bought as soon as they are available.

And speaking of that, Mr. Pratchett: I'm done with this one. May I have another?