Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Butterfly in Amber by Kate Forsyth

(Book Review)

After spending several months deprived of new audio books, I've finally discovered the audio book section in my University.

Because I'm such a slow reader, and because reading is a bit of an effort for me, I'm very picky about which books I chose to spend my time on.

But audio books are a completely different story. I don't lose anytime listening to them (they're great to have on while walking or exercising) and there's no effort required. So if an audio book looks even vaguely interesting, I snatch it up.

And so, when I saw this one on the shelves, my thought process went something like this. "Looks like a fantasy story. I like fantasy. The cover looks like it has a bit of an air of mystery to it. So far so good. It's a children's book, but no shame in that. The pink colours look slightly girly, but let's keep reading..."

Skimming the back cover, I noticed that Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans played a big part in the story. And then I was hooked.
I've not yet gotten around to reading a lot about Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil Wars (other than what I've learned from "Monarchy" and the BBC radio program "This Sceptred Isle"), but I consider the period to be among my historical interests.

So I checked out the book.

Once I got it home, I tried to look online to find out more about it. But there's surprisingly little information about this book on the internet.

In this day and age when information about everything is on the internet, it's unusual to find a gap like this. Especially for a recently published book (2007) by a major publisher (Pan MacMillan Australia). And especially considering someone found this book worthy enough to make into an audio book.
(And the voice actor they got to do the reading on this book is really reading her little heart out with all sorts of different voices for every character. It almost seems a shame all her effort went unnoticed.)

It's not a complete blank of course--there are various websites which list this book among their merchandise. But nowhere is their any information that's not on the book's back cover. The Amazon page doesn't even contain any reviews for this book (as of this writing).

It could be that this book was only distributed in Australia? I don't know.

From what little I can piece together, it looks like this book is the 6th part of a larger series, called "The Chain of Charms" series.

(This goes to prove my theory that it's impossible to find a fantasy book these days that doesn't commit you to reading a whole series.)

But "series" is almost the wrong word for it. "Harry Potter" or the "Chronicles of Narnia" are series, but each book in those series also stands alone as its own independent story.

This is one long story that has been chopped up and sold as six different books.

Which personally I think is indefensible.

When you buy a book (or check one out of the library) the least you expect is to have a self-contained story.
Now, if you want to follow the same characters on for other adventures (as I have been doing with the Flashman series, for example) by all means make a series out of it. But don't split one story into several different books. It's just makes it a pain for the reader who has to track down all those different books.

I'm willing to make exceptions for stories that are just too long to physically fit in one binding (such as "Ilium" and "Olympus".) But this book is only 4 CDs long on audio book. (And if you listen to a lot of audio books, you know that's nothing.) According to amazon, the printed page is only 288 pages long. All six books could easily have been put into one binding.

(I know it's a kids book, but kids like long epic stories just as much as the rest of us. Look at how long some of these Harry Potter books are.)

I know the publishers were hoping I would run and immediately buy the other 5 books in this series, but really how much trouble do they expect me to go through? The University library doesn't even contain the whole set of books. It's out of print so I can't go to my local bookstore. Amazon doesn't even look like it has copies in stock. Even if I was absolutely blown away by this story (which I wasn't) I wouldn't have the energy to spend my afternoons searching through used bookstores.

I realize that now that the book is out of print, and the profits have already been made, publishers no longer care how easy it is to track down the whole series. But as long as these books adorn library shelves and used book store racks, they will represent a frustration to readers. It would have been much better to publish this as a single volume.

That's my biggest complaint about this book. And admittedly it's an editorial one. (Maybe the publisher's decision instead of the author's.) But it still irks me.

Other than that, the book was pleasant enough. Nothing great, but a nice little read.

This is the 6th and last book of the series (if you're only going to read part of the series, you might as well just read the end) and it was easy enough to catch the plot even coming into the middle of the book. (Although the last fourth of the book was all about the emotional re-union with characters from the previous books. Since these characters meant nothing to me, the last part of the book was pretty boring.)

The plot involves two gypsy children who are trying to rescue their family (who have been imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans). In order to do this, they first need to search and find all the lucky charms of their family.

(All the talk about finding my lucky charms and loosing my lucky charms sometimes made me feel like I was listening to a breakfast cereal commercial (W).)

The children get into several tight spots in this book, from which they all escape due to miraculous coincidences or acts of nature. Most of this is attributed to the lucky charms.
Which is, unfortunately, one of the problems with stories about luck and magic. As a reader I wanted to see the children struggle out of the tight spots on their own, using their own wit, strength, quickness or whatever else. I didn't want them to be miraculously delivered every time by some deus ex machina. But at the very least I guess this story is upfront about what it is doing.

Oliver Cromwell never actually appears in the story itself, but all the characters are always talking about his illness and impending death.

The children appear to be on the side of the royalist cause. (And references are often made to the Duke of Ormand, who apparently befriended them in a previous book.)

My own sympathies are decidedly anti-royalist. Oliver Cromwell himself is of course very difficult to defend. Cromwell may have been nothing but a dictator and a tyrant, but at the very least I'm very sympathetic to the anti-royalist side of the English Civil War. I particularly like the radical republican groups of the time (such as the Levellers, the Diggers). But I'm also more sympathetic to the Roundheads and the Puritans than I am to the Royalists, and I don't view the Restoration of the monarchy as a positive step forward historically.

This book portrays the Puritans as religious zealots and extremely...well, Puritanical for lack of a better word. And I guess they were religious zealots. But in this case my dislike of monarchy trumps my dislike of religion.

[Also, in the afterward to the book, the author claims that Charles II worked with Parliament and had much less powers than Oliver Cromwell ever did. It is true that Charles II never had the absolute power the Cromwell did, but it wasn't because of any virtue of his own character, just a result of historical circumstance. Furthermore in the last years of his reign Charles II dissolved parliament and ruled without a parliament.]

So I had to swallow my own historical prejudices a little bit as I read this book, but it was nothing I couldn't handle.

The book is a nice mix of historical fiction with an element of fantasy. One element of fantasy is all the tame animals that accompany the children--a dog, a monkey, and a bear. And a horse shows up at the end of the book. It's slightly silly, but it's good fun.

The children also mix with historical characters such as the countess of Dysart.

At the end of the book, there's a brief afterwards where the author explores the question of whether or not Cromwell was poisoned, and also gives an interesting recounting of what happened to Cromwell's mummified head (W) after he died.

****************************************************************

Further thoughts:
Despite there being some problems in the execution, I really like the idea of this story. I think it's a cool idea to mix historical fiction with fantasy.

I think the fantasy genre is appealing to people because it touches on the subconscious idea that there must have been a mythic period in the past. And some of the greatest fantasy literature is successful because it mixes myth and history together. Think about The Trojan War, early Roman history, the King Arthur cycle, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Old Testament (if you want to open that can of worms) et cetera.

Tolkien of course was one of the first people who took the fantasy genre into a completely made up world. And he was very good at what he did (and yes, I know he was influenced by Norse Mythology). But all the imitators of Tolkien in the past 60 years have kept returning to this made up land.

Perhaps it's time for the pendulum to swing back the other way. I'd like to see a lot more books that retold traditional history but added in fantastic elements to it.

I know some of these books are out there already, and it's just a matter of tracking them down. (Such as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke--another example of a book which failed a bit in the execution, but nonetheless had a really cool idea to retell the Napoleonic Wars with feuding magicians.) If you know of any cool history fantasy books, feel free to recommend them to me.

*******************************************************:
One last thought:
In writing historical fantasy you'd have to make certain compromise of course. You couldn't have armies of dwarves or elves running around anymore (unless you went really far off the historical rails). But in the traditional stories dwarves and elves were never meant to be assembled into huge armies anyways. They were meant to be hiding out in the forest or deep in the mountains.

This book takes the Gypsies as it's magical element, which is a bit sticky because you're dealing with an actual real life ethnic group.

It's a very sympathetic portrayal of the Gypsies. And in fact it highlights the persecution they suffered under the religious zealots (like the Puritans) in old England.
Nevertheless, it does portray them all as dealing in magic and fortune telling. It's not a bad thing per se, but it does reinforce stereo types.

But I'm a little hesitant to stick my nose into the fire by declaring an opinion on it either way. I'd like to see what the Gypsies themselves think of the book first.

Link of the Day
NOAM CHOMSKY More rights than people (THE CORPORATION)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

(Movie Review)

In the early 1960s Vietnam War had high levels of public support. The American public trusted their government, and they believed the war was a noble cause to protect freedom and democracy.
However as the years went on, lots of new information about the came to light.
Journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens asked question about the war, and people began to realize their government had misled them.
Once the true nature of the war became known, the public started to turn against it.
(I know that's oversimplifying the decade a lot, but I think it still works as a broad narrative.)

What frustrates me, as someone who went through school in the 90s, is that my generation didn't get any of the benefit of all these later revelations.

I was taught in school the "official" version of the Vietnam War. (And what I absorbed from the media of the time also reinforced this.)
In the version of the war I learned about, democratic South Vietnam was invaded by the North. America got involved in the war to protect the South Vietnamese people from this unjust aggression, and also to protect freedom and democracy.

The war was, in retrospect, a strategic failure perhaps, a quagmire, possibly not worth the American lives it costs, et cetera. But the American government had nothing but good intentions and high idealism.

This was the version of the war me and my classmates were taught, and this is what we believed.

In fact among my high school memories, I remember a special assembly at Grand Rapids Christian High School in which a speaker came to talk to us.
(I don't remember his exact topic. It was part of the spiritual assembly series we had every so often, so it was mostly a testimonial about his relationship with God. I remember he also touched on the importance of not having sex before marriage. We had several of these type of assemblies throughout the year.)
What I do remember clearly is that he talked about his service in Vietnam, and bragged that he had served in the war despite the fact that it was an unpopular war. "I love freedom and democracy more than I hate war. Now what do you think of that?" he asked.
The entire student body broke into loud applause, myself included. We didn't know any better.

It wasn't until I took a few courses at college, and began to read widely on my own, that I learned everything I had been taught about the Vietnam War was a lie.
Far from protecting democracy in Vietnam, the United States had actually stopped free elections in 1956 because they knew Ho Chi Minh would win. They then set up a series of dictators in South Vietnam, and helped keep these dictators in power against their own people.
The South Vietnamese never had freedom of speech or freedom of expression.

[The same was true about South Korea, which was a dictatorship during the Korean War and up until the 1980s, despite the fact that the Korean War was also supposedly fought to protect democracy. But that's another story.]

The Viet Cong was not an invading army from the North, but was mostly indigenous South Vietnamese fighting in their own country.

In my high school and middle school classes, we learned about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, but the teachers never told us it had been falsified.

And although we had learned about the 50,000 Americans killed in the war, and the suffering of American soldiers, no one had talked about estimated 4 million Vietnamese killed.
Nor did we learn about the massive bombing campaign, during which the War the US dropped more bombs on Vietnam than all the bombs dropped during World War II by all countries combined.

As I began to read outside of the official history textbooks, I began to be more and more shocked about the difference between what I had learned, and what had actually happened.

And the thing is, none of this should have been new information. This wasn't newly uncovered data that I was just discovering. Much of this information had been in the public discussion about the war in the late 60s and 70s. But it had all been swept under the rug in the years since then.

Because the history of the Vietnam War has been quietly re-written, I think documentaries like this are very important.
The Pentagon Paper are among the many things I wish I had been taught about in school. And despite being headline news everyday for two weeks, it has been quietly left out of the history books since then. So much so that, as I mentioned in this post here, people of my generation and younger--history nerds and politicos aside--have never even heard of them before.

Given the revelations in these documents, it says a lot that they have been successfully airbrushed out of history. For example the Pentagon Papers very clearly state that all the reasons given for the war were completely false, and that the United States couldn't care less about democracy in Vietnam.

And perhaps, had the Pentagon Papers had been remembered, the public would have been less likely to trust the word of the President in the build-up to the Iraq War.
That decision, unfortunately, is already in the past. But perhaps the legacy of the Pentagon Papers can help people to be skeptical when politicians give them the usual reasons for continuing to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To the extent that this documentary (released just last year in 2009) helps to push these papers back into the public consciousness, it's doing a valuable service.
I somewhat wish they had focused more on the content of the papers instead of just the biography of Daniel Ellsberg. (At one point in the documentary Howard Zinn says that the media circus around these papers caused quite a stir, but the content of the papers was never fully absorbed by the American public. It's a comment that I wish the film makers had taken to heart more in their production.)

But they say the first rule of film reviewing is to review the film you are watching, not the film you wish you were watching. This film was meant to be primarily a biography of Daniel Ellsberg, and follows him on his journey from hawk to dove on the Vietnam War. It also seeks to explain the risks he took, and why he took them. And as such, it is a great piece of story telling.

I learned a lot of interesting things from this film. For example, Daniel Ellsberg hung out with Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky (even before he became a media sensation by releasing the papers.) And the three of them even formed an affinity group at the 1971 May Day anti-War protest in Washington. (Imagine all 3 of those guys hanging out together. That's got to be some pretty interesting conversation.)

I though the film also did a good job of including some choice clips from the Nixon tapes.
For example when talking to Kissinger about the bombings, Nixon angrily exclaims, "You're so goddamned concerned about civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care."
Kissinger then replies that is only concerned about the civilians because of world opinion.
(It's nice that we have these tapes of private conversations so we can hear what the politicians really think. It's a pity they stopped tapping themselves after Watergate, but I wouldn't be surprised if these same kind of conversations still go on behind closed doors, regardless of what they tell us in public about their concern for the Iraqi and Afghanistan civilians.)

And then there's this gem the film makers also included:
Nixon: And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.
President: No, no, no, I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
President: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?...I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.


(Although to Nixon's credit, he does have a way with words. This is more apparent if you actually hear the audio. I particularly like his use of "sonofabitching" as an attributive adjective--as in "that sonofabitching thief" and "sonofabitching domestic council." It has a certain ring to it, no? I think I'm going to start using that one myself. "Hey, Tom, how's that sonofabitching coffee?")

All in all, a very interesting film, and well worth checking out. I'm glad the film makers made it, and I hope lots of people will see it. You can't emphasize these parts of history too much.

***************************************************

Update: I was just listening to an Audio CD of Noam Chomsky (Media Control--highly recommended if you can get your hands on it.) He talks about the Vietnam War and its place in history. Since this is what I was just talking about in this post, and because it resonates with my own experience, I thought I'd go through the trouble of quoting him here. The lecture is from the first Gulf War, and Chomsky is talking about the Vietnam syndrome, which a Reagan intellectual had defined as "the sickly inhibition against using military force."
This is from a lecture, so it loses something when you just see it printed on the page (the intonation and sarcastic tone at certain points, for example) but you get the idea.

"....It's also necessary to completely falsify history. That's another way to overcome these sickly inhibitions. To make it look as if when we attack and destroy somebody we're really protecting ourselves and defending ourselves against major aggressors and, you know, monsters and so on. There's been a huge effort since the Vietnam War to reconstruct the history of that. Too many people got to understand what was really going on and that was bad. Including plenty of soldiers and a lot of young people who were involved in the peace movement and many others. And it was necessary to re-arrange those bad thoughts and to restore some form of sanity, namely a recognition that whatever we do is noble and right, and if we're bombing South Vietnam that's because we're defending South Vietnam against somebody, namely the South Vietnamese, because nobody else was there. It's what the Kennedy intellectuals called, "Defense against internal aggression in South Vietnam"-- that was the phrase that Adlai Stevenson used. It's necessary to make that the official picture and the well understood picture. And that's worked pretty well actually. When you have total control over the media and the educational system and scholarship is conformist and so on you can get that across. One indication of it was actually revealed in a study that was done at the University of Massachusetts on attitudes towards the current Gulf crisis. A study of beliefs and attitudes and television watching. One of the questions that was asked in that study, people were asked: how many Vietnamese casualties would you estimate that there were during the Vietnam War? The average response on the part of Americans today is about 100,000. Now the official figure is about 2 million. The actual figure is probably 3 to 4 million or something like that. The people who conducted this study raised the appropriate question. They asked the question: what would we think about German political culture if when you asked people today how many Jews died in the holocaust they estimated about 300,000. What would that tell us about German political culture? Well, they leave the question unanswered but you can pursue it. What does that tell us about our culture? It tells us quite a bit. That's necessary to overcome the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force and other democratic deviations. And the same is true on every topic. Pick the topic you like: the Middle East, international terrorism, Central America, whatever it is, the picture of the world that's presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality. The truth of the matter is buried under edifice and edifice of lies..."

Link of the Day
Chomsky on Drug War

Also--I'm about a month late linking to this, but I thought Roger Ebert's thoughts on the Mosque controversy were really good. Number 10 especially is worth reading, when he details what is going to be built at ground zero, and contrasts it with what could have been.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Flashman at the Charge by George Macdonald Fraser

(Book Review)

After reading:

Tom Brown's Schooldays,
Flashman,
Royal Flash, and
Flash for Freedom,

I now come to the 4th book in the Flashman series.

The reason I got into these Flashman books in the first place (as I mentioned in my review of the first Flashman) is because I was interested in "The Great Game" and the 19th Century rivalry between Britain and Russia over Afghanistan and Central Asia.

This book returns to that theme, although like the previous books it has Flashman rushing from one danger spot into another, so that it manages to cover a lot of diverse ground. The first third of the book deals with the Crimean War (in which the cold war between Russia and Britain momentarily turned hot), the middle of the book deals with Russia and the serf problem, and then the last 3rd goes South to Central Asia and back into Afghanistan.

As always, Flashman manages to be present at all the great historical battles. And as always, he's present against his will.

The first third of the book, dealing with the Crimean War, is very well researched, very well written, and brings to life many of the historical characters involved in the conflict, from William Howard Russell (the times correspondent, who Flashman finds slightly annoying) to Frances Duberly (who Flashman is always trying to bed.)

The Crimean War is, viewed through the hindsight of history, a pointless war. (As almost all wars are viewed through hindsight.) Two empires were battling each other for strategic positioning in the East, and for this thousands of men on both sides were asked to throw their lives away.
(Of course that's not how the war was sold to the British public at the time--they were told they were fighting for freedom, and protecting Turkey against unfair aggression.)

Flashman, although a bully and a coward and thoroughly lacking in any redeeming virtues, is oddly enough the perfect narrator to see right through the Victorian hypocrisy. He realizes that, even though he's only ever cared for himself, he has never been guilty of sending off thousands of men to their deaths. In his own way, he figures he is actually less harmful than the army generals obsessed with honour and duty to country.
And the scary thing is that he's right.

The mismanagement which permeated the whole Crimean War has always been symbolically represented in the Charge of the Light Brigade (W) which Flashman manages to find himself dragged into (against his will.)

Like most Americans, I grew up having no idea what "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was, other than it had some connection to some famous poem or something. (My school education had been very American-centric.It could be that my ignorance is unique, but I suspect most other Americans out there are equally clueless.)

A few years ago I came across a BBC radio program explaining the whole thing, which I found quite interesting. (Link here--if you've got a few free minutes you can fill in the gap in your knowledge.)
After listening to that program, I had a basic idea of what had happened, but I still got a bit confused on the finer details of who ordered what when.

This book walks you through the whole disastrous chain of events step by step. And the beauty of a historical novel is that it's much easier to follow the action when it becomes a story. The faceless historical names become characters with personalities.
Fraser faithfully reproduces much of the petty squabbling and personality conflicts that took place among the British officers, and inserts Flashman into the historical narrative very cleverly.
Flashman has a strong dislike of Lord Cardigan, who actually led the charge, partly because of events carried over from the first novel (in which Lord Cardigan had a bit part) and partly because of what happens at the beginning of this one.

After the battle, Flashman is taken into Russia, where among other things he records his observations about how horribly the serfs are treated.

Again, much of this was absent from my historical education. (In traditional history telling, it is perhaps common to over-emphasize the sufferings of sovereigns like Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II, but gloss over the horrors that these old regimes inflicted.)

At times I suspected Fraser was exaggerating how terribly the Russian serfs were treated, but every time I began to question an anecdote, there was a footnote backing up the story with reference to historical sources.

One of Lenin's ancestors appears later in the story agitating on the serf's behalf.
(I'm not sure how much Fraser intended the appearance of Lenin's ancestor to symbolically represent Lenin himself. But the loud, boisterous, rabble-rousing nature of the character seems at odds with my image of Lenin as the careful planner and schemer. I had a similar reaction to Fraser's portrayal of Karl Marx in "Royal Flash." But that's really my only historical criticism of these Flashman books.)

But Fraser does at times seem to be drawing a line between the horrific conditions of the Serfs, and the 1917 revolution. Since the serfs were all freed well in advance of this revolution, it may not be completely fair.

Still, as I read the book I couldn't help but remember Dicken's prophecy from "A Tale of Two Cities" :

Crush humanity out of shape once more . . . and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of . . . oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

Dickens had published these words back in 1859. If the Russian government had only paid more attention to this warning, perhaps history would be a lot different.

Also while in Russia, Flashman runs into Harry "Scud" East from "Tom Brown's Schooldays." Having slogged my way through the original source material, it was nice to be rewarded by seeing another character from that book brought into the Flashman world.
In "Tom Brown's Schooldays", East had been Tom Brown's best friend, and the major supporting character in the book after Tom Brown himself. At the end of "Tom Brown's Schooldays," we learn that he is serving in India.
(There is apparently a sequel, "Tom Brown at Oxford," which fleshes out East's career in India more thoroughly, and which Fraser references in his footnotes. However having found the original "Tom Brown's Schooldays" a bit of a chore to get through, I won't be reading the second book anytime soon.)

The Scud East in the first part of "Tom Brown's Schooldays" is someone with an honest heart and noble heart, but has trouble resisting the urge to get into mischief. It might have been more interesting to have this Scud East appear, but Fraser chose instead to portray Scud East the Christian moralist, which is perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity. (We had hints that Scud East and Tom Brown were turning out this way towards the end of the first book, but in my opinion the transformation wasn't completed yet. I don't know what happens in "Tom Brown at Oxford.")

Nevertheless, East's strong sense of duty and self-sacrifice in this book contrast sharply with Flashman, who is only concerned about his own skin, making them the perfect Victorian foils against each other.

When East suggests they risk their lives to save the British Empire, Flashman narrates, "D'you know, when a man talks like that to me, I feel downright insulted. Why other, unnamed lives, or the East India Company's dividend, or the credit of Lord Aberdeen, or the honour of British arms, should be held by me to be of greater consequence than my own shrinking skin, I've always been at a loss to understand."

Flashman and East stumble onto a Russian plan to invade Afghanistan and India and take them from the British.
Once again, this sounds like pure fantasy, but Fraser backs it all up with footnotes, indicating that there really were such plans put forth to the Tsar, and that these proposals really were considered seriously by the Russian government.

Finally, Flashman ends up in Central Asia. Here Fraser digs up long forgotten historical characters for Flashman to interact with, such as Yakub Beg and Izzat Kutebar, who led the local indigenous resistance against the Russian drive South in the 19th century. As with everything else, the story is backed up with footnotes describing the ruthless Russian march South, and the local peoples who were brutally subdued in this campaign.

Flashman finds himself joining the local tribes (and their Chinese allies) and helping them fight against the Russians.
"There are obscure works on Central Asia by anonymous surveyors and military writers," Flashman the narrator says, "and I can look in them and find the names and places--Yabub Beg, Izzat Kutebar and Katti Torah; Buzurg Khan and the Seven Khojas, the Great and Middle Hordes of the Black Sands and the Golden Road, the Sky-blue Wolves of the Hungry Steppe, Sahib Khan and the remarkable girl they called the Silk One. You can trace them all, if you are curious, and learn how in those days they fought the Russians inch by inch from Jaxartes to the Oxus, and if it reads like a mixture of Robin Hood and the Arabian Nights--well, I was there for part of it, and even I look back on it as some kind of frightening fairy-tale come true."
A fascinating Victorian era adventure story, with just the right mix of satire, comedy, and travelogue. Definitely worth checking out.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky: Obama recycles George W. Bushs plans