Monday, April 30, 2018

Twisted Redemption

Twisted Prey – John Sandford – (G P Putnam) –

A few years back, I sent an email to the late, great, writer Evan Hunter; who famously wrote under the name Ed McBain. I was a huge fan of Hunter’s work, but I had become put off by some of his comments about conservatives in one of his novels. I contacted Hunter through his website and asked why he would risk alienating half, if not more of his audience as he done with me. Surprisingly, I received a reply from Hunter in which he basically told me he did not care because he believed what he believed and I could believe what I believed.

Now years later I find myself in a similar position, wondering why John Sandford, another of my favorite authors would insert off hand comments slagging conservatives, into his latest Lucas Davenport, Prey series novel, Twisted Prey. While I realize Sandford, is the pen name for journalist John Camp, who plied his trade in St. Paul, Minnesota, the state infamous for electing conspiracy theorist and military veteran widow suing, Jesse Ventura governor and sending comic hack Stuart Smalley to the Senate; I still have to wonder what is appealing about potentially pissing off a good portion of your audience?

That being said, unlike with Hunter, I stuck with Sandford through the multitude of twists and turns he lobbed into the storyline. Twisted Prey features the reprise of Sandford’s sparklingly, nasty politician Taryn Grant who Davenport squared off against in Silken Prey. Rich and beautiful Grant is the stereotype of a nasty political type that will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
This time out Grant, now firmly ensconsed in the Senate and eyeing the White House is still fixated on taking out her political rival; apparently beating him in the election was not enough. The cavalcade of players in this one includes some of the usual suspects that dot Sandford’s books, mixed with political operatives and military contractors and it makes for a fast, entertaining read.
While Silken Prey left some business unfinished, be forewarned, Twisted Prey wraps things up nicely, after all you can only get away with so much for so long. My only advice to Sandford, leave the politics behind and stick to what you do best.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Welcome to the Swamp

Secret Empires: How Our Politicians Hide Corruption and Enrich Their Families and Friends – Peter Schweizer – (Harper)

Have you ever wondered how a hick from Searchlight, Nevada can go from the comfortable middle class to owning a multi-million dollar condo at the Washington, DC Ritz Carlton? (Harry Reid) Or how a guy from Delaware who never had a private sector job and was always in elective office could own a multi-million dollar house? (Joe Biden) Or how any number of the offspring from elected officials, who by and large are screwups, seem to magically land high paying, high profile jobs or become partners in big firms?

Welcome to the Swamp! Peter Schweizer, the president of the Government Accountability Institute, investigative journalist and bestselling author once again details the inner workings of just how corrupt Washington, DC politicians are in his new book, Secret Empires: How Our Politicians Hide Corruption and Enrich Their Families and Friends. Schweizer seems to possess the magical ability to track down the finite details of the sketchy dealings and connect the dots that flesh out the stories corruption, self-enrichment and seemingly free pass these folks get when it comes to acts that would find ordinary folks starring down law enforcement types from any number of Federal agencies.

Schweizer does an incredible job of stringing these stories together and he sets in sites on folks from both sides of the aisle, because neither Democrats nor Republicans have cornered the market on being virtuous. Unfortunately for taxpayers, this kind of nefarious activity is nothing new. Tales of scummy politicians steering business to family members, lobbying and legal firm that employ family members or guiding legislation to the benefit of family member’s business concerns is a time honored tradition. It does take much to find stories of dirtbags like the late Congressman John Murtha steering favorable defense contracts to the clients of his brother’s lobbying firm or Arlen Specter’s son benefitting from legal work at his Philadelphia firm.

Rather than just lamenting these shady deals, Schweizer suggests steps that can be taken to address, correct and eliminate this stuff outright. Here’s the problem; the actions to address the problem would take legislative action, and what’s the likelihood that the swamp would punch their own meal ticket?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change – Marc Morano – (Regnery) 

If there was such a thing a global warming alarmist post office, it would be a safe bet that global warming truth-teller Marc Morano would land a comfortable spot at the top of the most wanted list with a poster sized mug shot up on the wall. The mere mention of his name will send these global warming zealots into fits of rage and incoherent rambling. It is my firm belief that he causes this kind of reaction based on the fact that he is utterly effective in his role as a climate change contrarian.

Now Morano has released an amazing collection of information, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change, that points out the simple house of cards that the climate change hucksters have constructed and how easily it collapses under the tiniest bit of feather like scrutiny. Morano points out time and time again that for group that is supposed to be rallied around a so-called scientific consensus, these climate change true believers seem to be firmly rooted in only one thing; the ever shifting sands of alarmism.

Marano runs down a laundry list of doomsayers who can’t seem to agree on the world’s end date due to climate change or global warming or global cooling or whatever this week’s twist might be. Depending on whom you choose to believe it’s either already happened, will happen any minute now or could happen in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or for those optimists, even decades from now!

The great thing about The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change, is you just know that the simple fact that Morano illustrates the absurdity of these alarmists by dissecting them with humor, which has to put them straight over the edge. It’s the perfect gift to drive your liberal friends crazy.

A Classic Spin on Party

Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks – Andre Darlington and Tenaya Darlington (Running Press)

My first impression of this book is that it should come with a couple of warning labels.

Warning #1 – If you try to drink your way through this book you will go broke. The plethora of spirits and mixers will break the bank. Suggestion- invite friends to share the bottom line and the fun! Except the Seduce chapter…unless that’s the way you roll.

Warning #2 – If you try to listen your way through this book you will go broke. Unless you have a substantial and diverse vinyl collection you will again, need to invite your friends who have great vinyl collections to bring along some sides. The music part of this book made me cry as I once again lamented the selling off of my vinyl collection which once numbered near 7500 albums and became too unwieldy to move. By the way for the Seduce chapter, borrow the Sinatra and Marvin Gaye…unless that’s the way you roll.

Once again the brother and sister team of Andre and Tenaya Darlington have come up with a great concept in the form of Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks. While you may have heard of food and drink pairings, this is the first I have ever heard of matching the perfect album with the perfect drink.

Last time out, the Darlington’s matched food and movies for Movie Night Menus, so this is a perfect next step. Their taste in music shows the right mix of eclectic styles ranging from R&B and blues to rock and soul, with few standards thrown in for good measure. The drinks run the gamut from new twists to old classic to the keep simple of the AC/DC open bar, which sounds about right.

The only glaring error was in the form of a food pairing, which they sprinkle in along the way; Marvin Gaye and avocado toast?! Any true connoisseur knows that the perfect pairing with Marvin is chilled champagne and a fresh can of whip cream. Now that’s the way I roll.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Space Cowboys

The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos – Christian Davenport (Public Affairs)

As a child of the space age, I vividly remember sitting with my parents in front of a black and white console TV and watching a Neil Armstrong took that infamous step from the bottom rung of the moon landing craft and touched down on the firmament of the Moon. I have been fascinated ever since and been blessed with the opportunity to interview some of the pioneering spirits of NASA about that time. I equally remember the tragic space shuttle disasters, marking my locations and activities at the time they occurred as “where were you moments” in my lifetime.

I can’t say that the current version of the so-called space race has held that level of fascination for me, striking me as a bunch of overtly rich guys trying to measure their manhood, rather than being space pioneers. So it was with a different kind of interest that I approached Washington Post space and defense reporter Christian Davenport’s The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos.

Davenport does a solid, even handed job of delving not only into the current state private enterprise space race, but what the motivating factors are for the billionaires leading the charge. Davenport sits down with Musk, and Bezos, as well as Paul Allen and Richard Branson. With a more than even chance of ending up coming off as a puff piece, notably with Bezos who owns the newspaper Davenport is employed by but, The Space Barons builds a ground up portrait of the commercial space entrepreneurs and the companies they built to drive new space innovation.

At times there is a sense of guys who are too smart for the room, thinking they can out innovate the stodgy old NASA approach but that gets leavened by some hard lessons they have all learned, often delivered the hard way. Davenport does well with balancing the showmanship of Branson, the smarts of Allen, the worshipful fanboy cult that often surrounds Musk’s every venture and the out and out riches of Bezos. While he didn’t manage to eliminate my skepticism of the new space race, Davenport did manage to convince me it might be worth taking a closer interest in its comings and goings.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Iconic Insight

Star Wars Insider: Icons of the Galaxy (Titan Comics)

Think about the universe that was created and the characters that populate it that went into the making of the Star Wars franchise; is there anything in our lifetime that comes close to being as iconic as Star Wars?

To be clear upfront I was never a huge Star Wars fanatic, but I have always been intrigued by the drawings and designs that went into the development of characters in a high concept movie and what is a higher concept than Star Wars? It is the insider look at some of the drawings and designs that went into the development of costumes and uniforms and the characters that are collected in Star Wars Insider: Icons of the Galaxy.

This collection is a kind of best of, of the Star Wars Insider Magazine; it combines interviews with both the actors and those behind the scenes folks that developed this amazing franchise. My favorite section features some of the often rough drawings and the progressions that the characters looks, uniforms and even gear went through before finding their way to the big screen.

Even the minor characters are shown to go through multiple progressions and changes as they made their way through the development process. While everyone is surely aware of the iconic leading characters, this book serves a great reminder of the multitude of minor or supporting characters that went into the creation of this legendary movie series and the world that was created to support it. Perfect for Star Wars fanatics and anyone who is interested in concept design.