Archive for March, 2022

March is grap month

Saturday, March 12th, 2022

OK, not really, but I have had someone inquire about using grap and a notice that it has been included in the Free Software Foundation’s Free Software Directory.

Fans of archaic typesetting software, rejoice!

Review: Hero of Two Worlds

Sunday, March 6th, 2022

I didn’t know much about Lafayette before reading Mike Duncan’s biography, and I’m delighted to have that changed. Duncan’s a podcaster and his writing shows it. It’s lively and engaging and aimed at people whose time he competes for. I feel confident he could do justice to any figure he cares about, and he clearly seems to care about the Marquis de Lafayette.

The Marquis is a giant figure in American and French history. I mostly knew him as a military and diplomatic figure who played key, mostly behind the scenes, roles in the American Revolution. That’s true and well fleshed out by Duncan. He also points out how brushing shoulders with the American founders influenced him. In many ways he pulled in the purest forms of the stated ideals of the new republic.

His history in America was, if unsung, entirely positive. The founders and citizens of the new country embraced him. His time in France was trickier. He certainly brought the American ideals back to the brewing pot of revolution that was France. Applying his ideals to his homeland was much more complex. That was made more tricky by his inability to stay out of the fray.

He walked a path between endorsing and supporting the monarchy while pressing for a version of republicanism and human rights that exceeded those of the Americans. He was embraced and expelled at different times by the many shifting factions of that revolution. His fate ran the gamut from commanding the national guard to difficult imprisonment. Duncan traces this all with insight and clarity.

A compelling book about an incredible person.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Vallista

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

I’m a fan of Steven Brust and his Taltos novels, of which this is one. As with all the other Taltos novels, on the surface it’s a snappy fantasy novel with a wise-guy protagonist. Magic, swords, and wisecracks abound. As with all the others, this has a tone, theme and form different from the others. This one is has the form of an escape room adventure. Vlad finds himself embroiled in a sorcererous puzzle without knowing why, how, or what the goals are. Kind of like waking up on Myst.

He’s resourceful so he quickly gets moving, and despite the air of confusion, the story moves smoothly along. Vlad is mostly alone, but he always has a wise-cracking familiar along and he’s narrating this to an as yet unknown interlocutor, so the humor and sharpness stick around.

As with so many of these novels, Brust’s mastery of the specific form and genre writing in general is so strong that if this story sounds like you’d like it, you’ll like it. But if you like to ruminate on these things and think about societal and personal themes there’s a lot to chew on.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: Nothing is Wrong and Here is Why

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

Alexandra Petri is fun to follow on twitter and well regarded as a humorist and satirist. Well enough that the Washington Post decided to publish a column written by her regularly. I dipped into her columns in this collection.

These columns are from the early years of the (First?) Trump administration. I think they were good fun at the time, but didn’t age well for me. The details and criticism all are on point, but for me the individual columns were not as distinct as I’d like. There’s a nice twitter snark to them and many a well-turned phrase, but they all seem to blur together after a while.

Review: Everything You Wanted To Know About Indians, but Were Afraid To Ask

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

I wasn’t so much afraid to ask these questions, but didn’t have a lot of Native Americans sitting around to ask. And more to the point, there are a lot of different groups of Indians to ask. Anton Treuer does a fine job addressing a lot of questions I had – and I think many people will have – without oversimplifying.

Most of the answers are, “it depends.” The traditions, preferences, and history of the groups of Natives on the East Coast, The Dakotas, and the West are widely different which informs every answer. That alone is worth the experience of reading it.

Treuer writes clearly and plainly. There are no weasel words here, but a clear description of the state of the world.