Review: Small Favor

April 11th, 2008

Which really ought to be Small Favors, but of course that would not fit the series' "two word titles, both words the same length" theme.

It's the latest in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels. The fact that we purchased it on the day of release, in hardback, should tell you pretty much what you need to know about my opinion of the series. They're fun. Fun characters, fun plot, interesting setting and contrivances. They're a bit silly, ultimately, and Mr. Butcher uses the pulpiest literary devices - cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, ominous pronouncements for dramatic effect, etc - but if you haven't read the series, pick up the first one and start. Wonderful bubblegum for the mind. This installment was no different.

RIP Charlton Heston

April 11th, 2008

I'm a bit late on this, but Charlton Heston passed away this week. Certainly an actor with some serious work under his belt, at least a half-dozen films that everyone ought to see. And he's fantastic in them. Certainly a life that has left behind much to its credit.

Unfortunately for the world, of course, he turned from filmmaking to conservatism. What struck me as odd, reading various retrospectives about his life, was that he started out as a liberal Democrat, and somewhere in the nineteen-seventies he went wrong; from civil-rights crusader to voodoo economics proponent.

It's not an isolated phenomenon, this turning to the dark side; witness, say, Dennis Miller - or Ronald Reagan himself. I wonder, idly, if there's some sort of medical explanation for it, a stroke of the brain's moral center, that kills off those parts of the brain responsible for compassion (and a goodly chunk of the intellect). A silent killer of rational thought and empathy, leaving only an understanding of greed, power, and selfishness.

Almost certainly not. But if there were, perhaps there would be a cure...

Reviews: The Bank Job, Red Lightning

April 3rd, 2008

The wife and I went to see 'The Bank Job' last night. Decent film, nothing to write home about. I give it a 6/10.

Also finished John Varley's Red Lightning a few days ago. Decent book, nothing to write home about. The folks at Boing Boing raved about it, said it was the second coming of Heinlein's young adventure space novels. I dunno about that. It was okay. I give it a 7/10.

Crack Financial Reporting

April 1st, 2008

I visited the Motley Fool website yesterday, as I occasionally do. This isn't a recommendation, by the way, a friend is a longtime member of theirs so I check up on them occasionally, but in general they just seem like a way to advertise investment strategies that, if they worked, ought to mean those who are selling them shouldn't have to work any more.

In any case, I happened to notice that one of the dramatic movers on their front page was SQM, a company we recently invested some $20,000 in. To my shock, the dramatic movement was a 90% drop in the price, from $230-something to $23-something per share.

Oh, shit! My first thought was that there had been some scandal, with the corporate directors embezzling millions and jetting off to Bimini.

My second thought was, wait a minute, wasn't there a 10-to-1 stock split in the offing?

Full story »

Republican Competence

March 27th, 2008

As usual, the party that doesn't believe in government, doesn't do it well:

With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.

Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.

In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

Moreover, tens of millions of the rifle and machine-gun cartridges were manufactured in China, making their procurement a possible violation of American law. The company’s president, Efraim E. Diveroli, was also secretly recorded in a conversation that suggested corruption in his company’s purchase of more than 100 million aging rounds in Albania, according to audio files of the conversation.

...

But problems with the ammunition were evident last fall in places like Nawa, Afghanistan, an outpost near the Pakistani border, where an Afghan lieutenant colonel surveyed the rifle cartridges on his police station’s dirty floor. Soon after arriving there, the cardboard boxes had split open and their contents spilled out, revealing ammunition manufactured in China in 1966.