Book Review #9

 

inferno

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This will be a review of Dan Brown’s most recent book, Inferno – but first, a word from our author – as usual.

I am always leery of “Best Sellers.”  That just means that marketing has appealed to the lowest common denominator, including people who write things that I rant about and make fun of in my usage blogs.  Take out the prurient porn, and Fifty Shades of Grey is really just a shit piece of prose.

So, when The DaVinci Code burst on the scene, I waited till I got a few actual readers and professional reviewers who said it was worth the read, before I dived in.  Lots of action and suspense, it all took place in one, 24-hour period (cute gimmick, that).  I caught many of the background references, but felt there must be more.

A book-reading co-worker lent me his copy of The DaVinci Code Decoded, an explanatory companion volume.  Sure enough, page by page, hundreds of little details turned a rock concert poster into the Bayeux Tapestry.  For example, if you spoke Italian, you would know that Bishop Aringarosa’s last name translated into “red herring.”

I went back, and read his Digital Fortress, and Deception Point.  Not as frenetic as The Code, these were still good solid books.  Later, Angels and Demons had that “many things happening” feeling, while The Lost Symbol was less so, but very enjoyable.

The Book – Inferno

The Author – Dan Brown

The Review

This is another Carnival ride novel, beginning with that reliable old cliché, amnesia.  It all occurs in a couple of days, until returning memory flashes and characters’ comments show the hero (and us) how we got here over the previous three days.

As with The DaVinci Code, I felt that I could use a lot of explanation.  The bad guy is six foot–five, with vivid green eyes.  I thought Brown might be referring to Osama bin Laden, but he was long dead before this book was written, and he personally did not possess bio-engineering abilities.

The plot turns on overpopulation, and how society must collapse if we don’t control it.  It took until 1820, for the world population to reach one billion. In a hundred years, by 1920, the numbers had doubled, to two billion.  In only fifty years, by 1970, the numbers doubled again.  Not merely “added another billion”, but doubled, to four billion, and it appears that, after only another fifty years, 2020, we’ll be hip deep in eight billion of our “loving neighbors.”

Being restrained and “civilized” is all very nice but, if we don’t have a good war or two soon, we’re going to have a bad plague.  As I finished this book, the news spoke of 20,000 dead to Ebola.  You may not get to read this review.

Although Professor Langdon doesn’t remember it, he traveled without a passport from Boston to Florence, Italy.  He goes by train to Venice, and is flown to Istanbul for the grand finale.  The world-travelling author provides great descriptions of many beautiful buildings and locations.

Brown always keeps our mind spun around.  The hero’s amnesia – isn’t.  The “good guys” aren’t always good.  The “bad guys” aren’t really bad.  The perils are only imagined, and the quiet, safe periods often have an avalanche bearing down on them.

one shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concurrent with this book, I was simultaneously reading Lee Child’s, One Shot, and remarked upon the difference of construction.  While far from plodding, Child’s books move in one direction till that plot point is achieved.  Chapters end on one page, and a new one begins on the next page.  They can be 30, 40, 50 pages long, taxing my attention span.

Dan Brown flits and flutters from thought to thought to thought – the hero, the villains, the damsel, the cavalry, the Blue Mosque, and then back around again, perfect for my Adult ADD.  Chapters end where they end – and the next one begins two lines below.  They are often only a few pages in length.  One chapter began on line 40 of the left-hand page, and ended on line 20 of the right-hand page, an entire chapter, less than a complete page long.

The plot-line centers around Dante’s Inferno trilogy poem, and a couple of well-known paintings which illustrate it.  The action and suspense are well built.  While nothing in the book is really what it seems, it still feels believable.  As many good books do, it describes a social problem, and causes the reader to think about both large-scale, and personal solutions to it.

If you haven’t read it already – and this literary Smoothie hasn’t ruined it for you – I suggest you give this book a try.

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Tabula Rasa

Or: HOW I LEARNED TO WRITE, AND HOW TECHNOLOGY HAS CHANGED IT

 

In The Beginning

I’m not quite old enough to have met Moses when he came down the mountain with the two stone tablets and the Ten Commandments.  I would have liked to see them, to find out how God inscribed that written-from-the-wrong-side, Hebrew chicken-scratching.  Did He use lightning to burn it, or a sand-blasting system to cut it in?  Making marks for others to read hadn’t changed much for a couple of millennia, but like many other things, it has evolved greatly over the last century that I’ve lived a big chunk of.  A whole lot of history has washed under my ass.

When I first went to elementary school, there was no Kindergarten.  Men worked, and women stayed home and minded the kids.  There was no need for state-funded baby-sitting, euphemistically disguised as education.  It was not till I moved into a new school building at Easter of Grade Four, that there was even a room for it, and not till the following September when it actually contained students (?).

I could read before I went to school, so I understood the, *put marks on paper to transfer ideas and information*, concept.  In Grade One we put all our marks on paper with wax crayons.  These were relatively new, historically.  They came in a six-pack of Roy G. Biv colors, no black or white.  Corporate greed and artistic pretension soon brought out the dozen-pack, which now included black.  Paper was white, so there was no need for a white crayon.

The dozen gave way to a 24-pack which included white.  Later, a 48-box required its own little wheels, and a pull-handle, and rolling luggage was invented.  Makers had to create imaginary names, like Sunburned Australian Backpacker, to describe colors never found in nature.  Salmon is a flavor!

In Grade Two, we got pencils, and pencil-crayons, sort of a cross between the crayons and pencils, only you couldn’t eat them.  If you were heavy on the sharpener, you could turn a whole box into multi-colored sawdust in a week.

In Grade Three, they trusted our mental and physical control enough to give us pens.  Back then they were straight-pens.  Dinosaurs transported cases of them to schools, to be distributed.  They were tapered rods with a flare-out at the bottom so your fingers wouldn’t slip off into the fresh ink.  Turned from wood, or moulded in this new plastic stuff, a 45 degree arc was removed from the bottom end.  Over this, a light strip of metal was riveted on, with the ends folded under to leave a little space.

Into this space were inserted nibs, the actual writing point.  Wider or narrower nibs could be used for different fonts and styles, and worn nibs could be replaced.  Ink for these pens was in a glass bottle in a hole in the upper right corner of the desk, because everyone was right-handed.  You could dunk the end of the pig-tail of the girl in front of you into the ink, but I always sat behind guys.

I have cut writing quills from seagull and farm geese feathers.  It takes quite a bit of ability to shape one so that it will pick up ink when immersed, hold it without dripping, and release it smoothly on the paper, without blotting.  The term penknife describes the tool used to create quills.

Then came fountain pens, still favored by politicians and businessmen.  They had a little lever on the side which pressed a bar against a long rubber bulb inside the body of the pen.  Pull the lever to expel the air, place the tip in the ink and release, to suck it into the pen.  It could leave the end of the pen somewhat messy, so someone developed a system where you twisted the pen body, and a little tube protruded.  Later, someone developed a plastic cartridge, like a bullet, full of ink.  Put it in the pen body, twist it down over a little hypodermic, and you’re ready to write.  The maker cutely named it Quink – QUIck-INK, get it??

The first ball-point pen was developed in 1898 by a Czech named Lazlo Biro, whose surname means “judge”.  The British tend to use the abbreviation biro instead of saying ball-point pen.  The technology had to wait until after W.W. II for production ability to be able to produce them cheaply.

Early typists had to be as close to perfect as possible, because corrections were almost impossible.  A hard eraser could remove an incorrect stroke, but the paper was gouged – the mistake obvious.  In 1951, Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith, developed a correction fluid called Liquid Paper.  It could be painted over a mistake like fingernail polish.

The road to computers started with an electronic typewriter which held up to thirty strokes before printing them.  If you made a mistake, you had time to tell the machine to correct it.  It was like signing your name on one of those electronic pads.  The difference between what your fingers were doing, and what your eyes saw, was disconcerting.

And so, we come to computers and printers.  With my manual dexterity problems, I could never have passed a 1950s typing course.  Now, with Spell/Grammar Check, and a few helpful programs, almost anyone can produce an error-free document.  (Homonyms not included.  Void where prohibited.)  Sadly, cursive writing seems to be on the decline, and that shows up in the oddest places.  A father recently took his 14-year-old son to get a passport….and the kid couldn’t sign the application.  Bake shops now have to teach new hires, not only how to bake birthday cakes, but how to put “Congratulations” on the top.

Those who don’t have a tablet or cell phone to text on, print.  Direct deposit and on-line banking mean you don’t even have to sign anything.  At least I didn’t have to start with drawing mojo pictures on the cave wall with the burnt end of a branch.  I think that the changes have been for the better.  Do you write, or print, or neither, and with what?

Old Faithful

I can’t even rely on the Federal Government to be unreliable.  I posted on the 13th that the office was to mail the son’s passport out on the 21st.  On the 14th, the dog raised a ruckus at an ungodly hour, 11:45 AM.  Well, that’s early for me.  By the time I had on enough clothes to beat an exposure charge, and got to the front door, all that was there was a notice to pick up the envelope the next day.  Not at the postal depot a kilometer down the street, the one four kilometers away, on the edge of town.

Why couldn’t it have been left in our SuperMailbox, a half a block away?  It got mailed early, but these are the people who put the “Self Service” in Postal Service.  I guess this means we’re destined for a trip to the States.  I’ve already booked a room, and paid for it to get a reduced rate.  We’ll be staying 20 miles south of Detroit for a weekend, just to prove we’re Canadians.

The son had an interesting thing happen at his plant the other night.  A guy got locked in a car.  Two well-tanned recent hires come in the same vehicle.  Ahmed drives his friend Abou, in his, new-to-him, van.  When they got to work, Ahmed left the van unlocked.  At first break, Abou wanted to smoke.  Not being a Canadian, to whom 2 C is “a little chilly”, he climbed into Ahmed’s van, and hit the lock button, perhaps to keep the smoke in.

We don’t know if it was a malfunction, or whether it is a childproof feature but, when he went to climb out, the doors wouldn’t unlock, the windows wouldn’t roll down, and the horn wouldn’t sound.  Twenty minutes later, someone found him locked in the van.  They had to find someone to relieve Ahmed on his automatic machine, so that he could go out and unlock.

A 68 year-old female bartender was let go by a hotel chain in Toronto, when they moved operations to a smaller facility.  Her union (which might have been a reason for downsizing) does not have rights at the new operation.  In a fit of entitlement, she now wants to sue the union and the hotel chain for the wages and tips she would have earned until she planned to retire at age 75.

I’d like to feel sympathetic.  I wanted to put in 20 years, and retire at 65 from the auto-plant, but reality intruded.  Not the union, nor the hotel, nor society at large, owes her a job, especially till 75.  Move aside and let someone younger work.  If she’s as good as she thinks she is, and wants to work for sake of the job, I’m sure there is employment somewhere.  If she’s in it for the money, lack of planning on her part, does not constitute an emergency for anyone else.

The East-Indian restaurateur who threw spices in the face of an intruder, bent on assaulting him and his wife and kids, has finally had all charges dismissed.  I saw a lawyer in a TV show the other night, admit that lawyers do not practice justice, they practice law.  The law is a ass, and grinds exceeding slow.

The author of his own misfortune, is an East-Indian import named Sukhvir Sandhu.  This idiot just can’t keep his mouth shut.  He was recently arrested and charged for the sixth time, with drinking and driving.  The last time it happened, he drove away from an accident and into a residential area.  When he was restrained by a retired policeman, he assaulted and threatened him.  In custody, he bragged to police about how much he can drink and still drive, as well as admitting he’d driven away from other crashes.  He blamed his drinking on being bullied in high school because of his name.

In court, he threatened to “hunt down and kill” the police officer who charged him, and warned the court that he would just drink and drive again.  Four months later, he was caught driving while under suspension and impaired.  While in custody he was assaulted by another prisoner.  Gee, I wonder why that happened.  The judge was going to give him a year in jail, but the Crown and the defense agreed to 90 days.  Even knowing that the judge had no sympathy, he still tried to con a better deal.  He tried to talk the judge into giving him 180 days, but served on weekends.  It’s only three months, but I’m glad he’s off the roads, now if we could just get him to shut up.

A “good Christian” in Toronto hit his wife in the head twice with a hammer, and then stabbed a page from the Bible to her chest with a butcher knife.  He stole $200 from her purse and took his girlfriend on a trip.  When arrested, he cursed God for not preventing his homicidal rage.  Just once, I’d like to see one of the “good Christians” either actually be a good Christian, or take personal responsibility for their actions.

The dumb criminal of the week is the genius who took a cab to the Toronto airport, and walked away without paying.  Since there are always lots of cops there, the cabby raised a fuss.  Knowing he was now being pursued, Dumbo ducked into a washroom and tried to conceal an illegal handgun and magazine separately.  They were quickly found.  When he was searched, police seized drugs.  That got them a warrant for his house, where they found ammunition, Tasers, security guard uniforms, and “one gram of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used as an explosive.”

Timothy McVeigh needed a ton of this stuff to wound the Murrah building.  One gram wouldn’t out-pop a firecracker.  Thanks very much to the Sun Media, Chicken Little, who tried to frighten readers to increase sales.  It’s always about the money!

Act Sharp. Get To The Point!

The wife and I have been going to Knife shows to view hand-made, custom, and Art Knives for about 22 years.  The first one we became aware of, that we could afford the time and money to attend, was in Detroit.  The trip to that show was a real adventure, perhaps the basis for a future post.  Detroit is about a four hour drive.

Soon after, we found that there were knife shows in Toronto, only an hour away.  Actually, back then, there were three shows a year, hosted by the Canadian Knife Collectors Association.  Shows organized by collectors, embarrassing!  Soon the Canadian makers organized themselves into a guild and took over the shows.  They’re down to two shows now, with talk of dropping the fall one.

Makers came in from the Yukon, B.C., the prairies, Quebec, the Maritimes, and the northern U.S.  Then, 9/11 happened.  Overnight, makers were not allowed to carry knives onto airplanes.  A maker flying from Hawaii to L.A. lost $30,000 worth of knifes from cargo.  Soon shows shrank, because they were limited to makers who lived close enough to drive.  The Detroit show went from 200 exhibitors, to 50.  The Toronto show has gone from 50, to about 20.  Still, we go!

This year there were four makers from Montreal and area, a 7 hour drive.  Their French business cards list them as joalliers – jewelers.  Their knives were elegant, gem-adorned, gold-inlaid pieces of art.

The most recent Toronto show was held March 9 and 10.  With the wife’s deteriorating mobility and increased breathing problems, she often stays at home.  Bright and early Saturday morning, (It was early, but I was none too bright, with three hours sleep.  The son had been up since 6 PM Fri.) I took the son, the grandson and his fiancée, and we went to Toronto.

I got to socialize with makers I’ve known for years.  We discussed those who have passed on, or had to leave the business, and some of the new, up-and-comers who are taking their places.  We all looked at knifes and swords, and supplies, and non-knife stuff that cutlers (A name, meaning knife-maker.) make.

The five-dollar work-knife the grandson bought last October has been extensively used, causing wear to the lock, which creates a safety hazard.  He paid $60 to buy a much more reliable replacement, prettier too!  The son also paid $60 to get a different-style lock-back, to replace the twenty-some year old Swiss Army Knife he carries.

Last year, and the year before, he paid $300 for art-engraved, solid titanium hook-type belt-buckles, which he displays with his utility/fighter knife, and the Katana sword he won last year.  The door prize this year was a pattern-welded Damascus-steel knife with a strip of Canadian Maple-Leaf flags down its blade.

One maker had a matching brother/sister pair of knives.  A gentle S-shape, the blade down, and the carved coca bola-wood handle up, with a matching carved wooden sheath.  The his-knife a little larger, but each at $300.  The grandson and the fiancée each wanted to buy one.  She had cash in her wallet, but the work-knife purchase had left him short.  He went up to the ATM in the lobby, but it was out of order.  The desk-clerk sent him to the building across the street, where he got cash at another ATM.  Just as he re-entered the room, another guy picked up “his” knife, and bought it for a friend.

The grandson learned to “reserve” a knife, even put a deposit on it.  Fortunately, the maker is a relatively new displayer, and lives here in Kitchener.  It would take about a year to work it into his schedule, and it wouldn’t be exactly the same, but if the grandson asks, he’ll make another, to complete the pair.

The son bought a shooting star, literally.  One of our friend/makers had a small billet of steel made from a piece of meteorite.  Only able to get a couple of knives from the piece, he cut and polished a few shapes from the scrap, including a thumbnail-sized, star-shaped pendant, on a rawhide thong.  He paid $60 for that also.  A piece of a star doesn’t come cheap.  He also looked at a beautiful titanium art-knife folder, engraved with skulls and crosses, like one of the buckles he bought from the same maker.  Boy, I wish I lived at home with my parents, and could afford pretty stuff.  Well, it does all live at my house, so I can gaze and fondle it.

After the show, we went down the street to a sub shop for lunch.  On a busy street, by the airport, there is no sidewalk, just a paved shoulder up to a tiny parking lot.  While we sat there, a black Lincoln stretch-limo pulled up and stopped.  Five minutes later, a black Cadillac pulled in behind.  A questionable-looking driver got out and walked up, carrying a briefcase.  The rear window rolled down, the briefcase was handed in, a different briefcase was passed out, and they rolled away in opposite directions.  Another “What The Hell Did I Just See?”  That wasn’t a drug, or weapons, or industrial espionage deal??!  Nah, the driver just took his wife’s briefcase this morning, with the wrong lunch.  Yeah, that’s it.

I finally nudged the son into applying for his passport.  The wife cut his hair and trimmed his beard.  Now he only looks like the second-in-command to an Arab terrorist.  He got the requisite photos taken, had his Mom fill in the last of the application form, and I drove him down to the passport office on Thursday.  I’ve been there before, and know where to park.

The clerk told him that they were scheduling to mail out passports, applied for that day, on March 21.  There’s the spring knife show in Detroit, coming up on April 26/27.  Unless the bureaucracy really fouls things up, he’s taking the Friday off work, and the two of us will go.  If something does get screwed up, the wife says she’ll be happy to go again.

Even if nobody gets propositioned this time, there should be enough of interest for another post.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sauce For The Goose

Was it always thus?  Were people always so thoughtless and selfish?  I suppose at any point in history, a certain percentage were.  The problem is worsened in cities.  The bigger the city, the more people there are to share things – land, air, open skies, personal space and the respect and acceptance of others.  With a lower average being spread around, the likelihood is increased of some assholery being committed by unthinking, uncaring thugs, to get what they think their share should be, fair or otherwise.

It’s difficult some times to know whether they really are as stupid and uncaring as they sound, or whether it’s a persona they’re using to achieve their ends.  For years, those of us with lungs, who want to keep them, have been fighting to get smokers to stop dispensing their noxious gases in public.  Locally, it’s illegal to smoke inside any public building.  This just moves the problem.  Now they smoke outside the buildings, and you get to run a toxic gauntlet, trying to get a passport, or making a bank deposit.  *You can’t make me stop.  I have a right to smoke.*  No, you don’t!  Their sense of entitlement vs. my right to breathe and enjoy clean air is truly awe-inspiring

I wanted to take the wife to Wendy’s for lunch one day.  We climbed out of the car and faced the door.  The female manager and a male friend were standing right beside the entrance, smoking.  We stood beside the car for about a minute, thinking they might take the hint and move.  No such luck.  Finally, she noticed us staring at her, and petulantly demanded, “What?!”  We’d like to enter your facility to have lunch, but can’t because you’re blocking the door by smoking.  You’re supposed to move away.  “Well, I thought it was nine feet.”

You’re the manager of a restaurant, and you don’t know what the bylaw is?  It’s not nine feet.  It’s nine meters!  That’s thirty feet!  Even if it were nine feet, you were only five or six feet from the door.  See the orange paint that head office had applied to the curb, by the door.  You’re supposed to be outside that, and downwind if you don’t mind.  I should have filled in one of the How Did We Do Today forms inside, but she’d probably just have thrown it away.  Maybe next time I’ll complain on-line.

On a related note….fire pits.  The city is in the middle of a minor crisis about whether to continue to allow residents to have outdoor fires.  This is like smoking.  Your rights stop at the end of my nose – or should.  Older residents, parents with young children and people with breathing problems have lobbied to have the city declare them illegal.  The caring response evident in several letters to the editor have been, “Tough!  If you don’t like it, close your windows!”  A letter today tried to justify it by saying that his kids want to enjoy themselves roasting marshmallows and hotdogs.  “Let them have a bit of summer fun.”  I will, as soon as I can breathe.  One letter suggested speaking nicely to your offending neighbor, and they would just stop.  Yeah, sure, I’ll get right on that.

Whatever the perk, there are those who seize it, and then try to prevent others from enjoying the same.  We moved to the other side of the city 23 years ago, because a developer had cut down half of a huge maple forest and erected hundreds of houses near the river.  As we were leaving the area, the developer wanted to cut down the other half of the bush and put up more homes.  You should have heard the squeals of anguish.  The ones who had taken advantage of the first forestry project now wanted the rest of the trees left, because the scenery was nice, and their kids could play there and run the dog.  Many of them were suddenly against Urban Sprawl.

After the forest was inevitably cut down, houses were built right across the river from the local airport.  Real Estate agents were legally required to inform potential buyers of its existence.  Nobody was *surprised*, except officials who now got demands from these home-owners that the airport be restricted, or shut down, or moved.  The airplanes were keeping the baby awake, or scaring the cat.  The guy I wanted to schmop with a soggy diaper, was the one whose house had been built thirty years ago, half a block from the expressway, but three miles from the airport.  He didn’t complain about traffic noise, but wanted the city to pay him to sound-insulate his house from airplane noise.

A drunken young female exited a downtown club and wandered across the street, where she was brushed by a passing car and knocked down.  She was totally, legally in the wrong, but guess whose insurance had to pay, and whose premiums went up.  A 19 year-old male rode his bicycle through a crosswalk, against the traffic flow, and was struck by a car making a turn.  It’s illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, and it’s illegal to ride a bicycle through a crosswalk, and he just found out why, but pedestrians and bicyclists don’t carry insurance.

I think the next park festival we hold should be a Bring-In-Your-Ego Fair.  There’ll be some whose egos are so big, they can’t drag them in.  For the rest, it could be like a children’s face-painting booth.  On this one, we could brush some care and consideration for others.  On that big bloated ego we could paint some vertical stripes, so it doesn’t look so huge.  Think it’ll work?  Nah!  Me neither.