Review: The Retreat of Western Liberalism

November 17th, 2019

Edward Luce is one of the co-conspirators over at Deep State Radio, a concern I support with some reservations. I picked this up reluctantly. Luce is not my favorite speaker on DSR – that’s probably Rosa Brooks or Kori Schake – and I was concerned that his book would be similarly dry to me. I’m delighted to find him much more sparkling on the page.

Retreat illuminates the state of the world for me in two ways I find useful. It is a powerful and intelligible summation of facts and motivations of liberal ideas in the sense of the sorts of ideas that motivated the creation of the United Nations and other national cooperative bodies (NATO, Marshall Plan). Western leaders planted these after World War II to promote specific values. Luce explicates what these institutions are and what specific ideals the leaders tried to embody in them. The ideals are key to me. We can and should argue about the details of these institutions and how they are implemented, but holding up the motivations and principles that they are intended to promote lets one focus on whether those are worthwhile outside the details of who is behind on their UN dues.

Luce presents those institutions and ideas in the world outside our window, full of mistakes, compromise, and players who don’t believe in either the institutions or the ideals. People who believe in a simplistic world of simple good and evil are woefully unprepared to deal with those very real forces and people. Luce is persuasively and clearly realistic about how the ideas that the WWII winners tried to plant in the ground operate and fail to. He lives in a world where outcomes are not inevitable and invites us to join him.

Beyond that, he writes with clarity, wit, and charm that I was not expecting. While I’m happy to defend that evaluation of his writing, I suspect readers who are less sympathetic to his support of the international institutions will find his style more grating.

Recommended.

Review: The Phoenix Project

October 27th, 2019

Yeah, I really read this. It’s a novel about DevSecOps. Really.

Intellectually, I understand what Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford are up to. They believe in this management and software develop methodology and are trying to evangelize it. What surprised me is that they to spread the word in long form narrative fiction. Evidently they hypothesize that there’s a market for fiction about a Hero’s Journey through software development management.

I pretty much had to read it.

As literature, it’s a total potboiler. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Our hero is thrown into a job he can’t refuse in a department full of underappreciated characters who mistrust him. There are high-level schemers working against his goals and the goals of his company. The security manager takes apparent glee in undermining the smooth operations of systems to defeat imagined foes. Fortunately there’s a guru/guardian angel who embodies nearly every cliche of the misunderstood Silicon Valley genius to take our hero under his wing.

Along the way, our hero quits in frustration, only to be literally begged to come back by the CEO. The security manager walks out, drinks himself into oblivion and comes back to the good side through application of DevSecOps principles. Our hero wins the loyalty of his team, frees his company from the prison of hidebound operating principles and leads it to the Nirvana of market penetration. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

It’s an advertisement dressed up as an airport novel, executed perfectly competently. For that matter, I learned a few things about DevSecOps management principles that were worth thinking about.

I can’t recommend it, but it’s exactly what it says on the tin.

Review: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

October 27th, 2019

I think Caitlin Doughty makes the world a better place by telling folks what she knows about dying and funeral practices from her perspective as a Funeral Director. She’s admittedly something of a radical and activist director, but I think it’s a fun world in which one can be those things. At her core, she holds death and the rituals and services around it up to the light and tells people how they work. She tells the truth about the nuts and bolts of funerals and burial while respecting the beliefs that drive them.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? is part of that straight talk campaign. Specifically, she collects questions from children who attend her various appearances, read her books, or encounter her in her day job. In Eyeballs she answers the ones she finds most common, interesting, illuminating, or some combination thereof. I learned a bunch from her answers, and I already knew some about the topics.

She writes clearly, but a little bombastically for my tastes. I do think this is a matter of taste. I feel like she’s performing on paper as much as writing. Words on a page dance different steps than words on a video or podcast. The odd steps never seem more than a mild distraction to me, though. She’s clear and engaging.

Recommended.

Review: Lords of the Realm

October 13th, 2019

I heard a strong recommendation for John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm from an excellent baseball commentator, so I grabbed it. I did so with some trepidation. The subject is primarily off-field games – contract negotiations and labor relations – which is usually dead boring to me. I like to sit in the stands and bullshit, not compare player salaries.

I’m pleasantly surprised to report that Helyar brings the evolution of baseball’s labor situation to life very well. He manages to both animate the owners, union founders and leaders, and players. There is plenty of negotiation that feels specific to baseball. He also explains the labor issues clearly and insightfully. Whether you’re like me and love the game more, or a student of the finances, Lords is worth your time.

Recommended.

Review: In Patagonia

September 26th, 2019

In Patagonia is a book that, like Desert Solitaire, captures a place but is not a travel book. Bruce Chatwin has written an ode to a people and place that he found himself drawn into.

Chatwin’s Patagonia is a desolate, supernatural place inhabited by loners, discards, and outlaws to which he was drawn by a possibly fictitious brontosaurous skin. The inhabitants are simultaneously historical, fictional, and contemporaneous giving the place a timelessness that few places can claim. The result is to place a real location outside into a magical realm.

It’s a beautiful and unique work.

Strongly recommended.

Review: War Dances

September 8th, 2019

I really enjoy and appreciate Sherman Alexie’s poetry and short work that I’ve read. War Dances feels much the same as The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven in all the right ways.

I don’t have much else to say.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Private Empire

August 30th, 2019

Private Empire is a well-reported history of ExxonMobil’s history between the Exxon Valdez disaster and the first term of the Obama administration. Steve Coll does a fairly even-handed job of both documenting the corporate actions and animating them with the personalities who drive them.

One cannot approach the history of a corporation that acts on the scale of a nation in without some bias, but Coll is even handed enough that I believe that I got a clearer sense of the motivations of the players in the corporation. I came away with two insights: ExxonMobil policy is driven as much by the personalities of the executives who steer it as by the structure of the industry and market it exists in.

The corporation projects the economic mass of a nation channeled by a single industry and market. The industry leads the corporation to search into places with oil that one can get at. Getting at oil includes at least geology, changing technology, the government (or other organization) that controls the legal claims to that geology, and the public relations of getting access to it and selling it. As complex as the problem is, that is much more constrained than what drives nations. Under those constraints oil companies act in a pretty broad range of ways.

Coll argues that the personalites of the executives steer those actions. Over this period ExxonMobil was headed by basically two people: Lee Raymond and Rex Tillerson. Their mix of aggressive drive and Boy Scout upbringing led to more nuanced responses to their problems. The company’s expansion (including merging with Mobil) and geopolitical adventures (including responding to kidnappings and pulling a legal heist on the nation of Venezuela) are surprising in ways I approve and disapprove of. I understand them better having read this.

Seeing Tillerson as a cross between Boy Scout and Robber Baron makes his tenure as Secretary of State pretty surreal.

Recommended.

Chino and Cable

August 17th, 2019

I took some time Friday afternoon to polish take-offs and landings. I rambled off to the very hospitable Chino (KCNO) airport for practice and Cable (KCCB) for lunch. The last time I was out doing instrument practice, a couple of my roll-outs were wobbly. My safety pilot was happy to make excuses for me, but I try to be honest with myself on these things.

Chino is a lively GA airport with a couple parallel runways and active flight schools, so they were quite able to accommodate me. I flew out of Santa Monica, where they bill you by the landing, and tucked into the pattern at Chino, where they’re free.

Chino is home to at least two air museums: Planes of Fame and Yanks. I mention it both because I’m a member and supporter of Planes of Fame and I got to share the pattern with Yanks 1936 Lockheed Electra. What a beautiful plane. I took a couple pictures of it, and it’s something to see in motion.

I was trying out two things: flap use on take-off and landing roll-outs. The flap use is recommended in the Viking POH, though not by my transition instructor. The POH recommends the flaps to keep a less nose-up attitude during take-off. After trying a few, it is noticeably different and visibility is arguably better. It’s also closer to the attitude on a go-around, which seems to make that process a little safer. I got to test that when I miscalculated how long the Electra would be on the runway. I’ll keep playing with it.

The roll-outs were trickier. The Viking is squirrely enough on the ground that it’s worth keeping current with its handling. I used to be more aware of it on the take-off roll, but I’ve gotten very used to that. I think that made me more complacent on roll-out. Today’s practice got me more focused on it and my roll-outs were markedly improved.

Um, except for the one at Cable. Sigh.

Cable remains a great little uncontrolled – er, untowered – field. Maniac Mike’s seems to be undergoing a renovation. It was open, though, and I got a decent meal. Sadly the patio was closed, so I didn’t get to sit out there.

Winds were getting more variable when I got back to SMO, but the approach and landing were fine.

Review: Manuscript Found

August 17th, 2019

Literary sources abound in the modern world. This book came to me as a Patreon perk from Nathaniel Lloyd’s Historical Blindness podcast. His podcast is worth its own review, but not here.

Manuscript Found is a historical novel told with a metafictive bent. Lloyd is writing a novel about Joseph Smith and the founding documents of Mormonism. He’s also commenting on both the contents of the historical record and how an author – or historian – injects their views into their writings. It’s a nice mix, though it can be a little dry and subtle.

Lloyd braids this with a thread about authors of documents exposing the workings of Masonry. I find that choice to be illuminating. Revealing the workings of a secret society and presenting the foundations of a religion that is particularly shrouded in silence raise questions about how each arise and address the release of them. Alongside that he presents other protagonists’ involvement with the Underground Railroad. The Railroad is another secretive historical society whose motivations for secrecy are driven primarily by practicality.

His use of a fictional historian relating the workings and motivations of those groups fleshes the ideas even a bit more. He challenges many preconceptions about history and people through the historian’s voice.

I found it very intellectually challenging and thought provoking, though less emotionally engaging than some. I’m reminded of Jimmy Carter’s fiction. I admire the thinking and structure behind it, but wold love some more dynamism.

Stopping by Camarillo on a Summer Day

August 3rd, 2019

I had an opportunity to stop in at Camarillo Airport‘s Waypoint Cafe after doing some pattern work at San Gabriel Valley Airport (the former El Monte Airport), and I’m happy I did.

I’ve long been a fan of Camarillo Airport in general and its restaurant in particular. The airport’s community has been a thriving and vibrant one as long as I’ve been flying in SoCal. The Waypoint was always a great stop or lunch destination. Good food and weekend tri-tip barbequeues were big draws for me. A few years ago someone bought the place and the lines started getting longer. I haven’t been in a while because as Yogi says “No one goes there anymore, it’s too popular.” I figured that on a Friday the place might be slower than on a weekend.

The traffic pattern was pretty packed. That was great fun. The tower controllers were a joy to watch work. They were working probably 6-8 folks in the pattern along with transients incoming and outgoing. There was a helicopter making circuits as well. This is a lively place.

(Incidentally, San Gabriel was also hopping. Not as busy, but the controllers were conducting it all well. The hospitality and professionalism was top rate as always – as our traffic controllers so often are.)

I was wrong about the restaurant being slower. I got there around noon and there was a line. They have a counter, though and the woman running the joint – a maitre ‘d in a more pretentious place – pointed me at it when I asked about the line. It was much more a come-on-over than a we-offer-this-service tone. That welcome got warmer the longer I was there.

Incidentally, the folks waiting weren’t suffering. There were beautiful places to sit that overlook the ramp and the airplanes and complimentary refreshments. I was tempted to wait anyway.

The counter folks were super friendly and attentive. I never had an empty glass or anything else missing. The food was all delicious and the biscuit fantastic. The place was packed and everyone had time to be cheerful, helpful, and kind.

Perhaps even better, everyone else eating at the counter seemed to know everyone working behind it. That kind of community of regulars is a ringing endorsement of a restaurant – especially an airport restaurant. This is a thriving place that opened its arms to me. I’m no one special, so I expect that they do so for everyone. If you’re in the area, try it out for yourself, pilot or no.

It was sobering to return to Santa Monica. My home airport was once that vibrant (and had good food as well) but the city voters decided to use the land our community lived on for other things. That’s their right, of course, but I miss the hum.