December 6

[Amazon Link]

Not to bore you with Tales of Book Shopping, but when I opened this book I found the sales receipt, dated 5/24/03 from the about-to-go-out-of-business Stroudwater Books. Everything 75% off. A little reminder of the brick-and-mortar bookstore bloodbath. The store was on Dover's "Miracle Mile" at the time. Previously, the building was a Star Market, then a Service Merchandise. It's now a Planet Fitness.

I had been (and still am) a fan of Martin Cruz Smith's series about the Russian detective Arkady Renko since reading Gorky Park back in the 80s. Even though this isn't a Renko book, the Smith name plus the steep discount made it an easy choice.

Not that it matters, but also purchased at the same time: Funny Money by James Swain, read last October); Authentically Black by James McWhorter, read back in 2012; and Managing RAID on Linux by Derek Vadala, which I'm pretty sure I never got around to reading and left in my "free, take me" pile at my ex-workplace when I retired.

Sorry. My bookshelves are full of unread guilt. And the blog is my place to confess my lack of literary diligence.

Back to the book. It is mostly set in 1941 Japan, a country that sees itself as sorely beset by the oil embargo established by the US and the Allies. The protagonist, Harry Niles, is the son of missionaries, but he's far from saintly, involved in shady business dealings, prostitution, and the like. He loves much of Japanese culture, but it often doesn't love him back.

There are flashbacks to previous episodes in Harry's life, outlining how he came to the precarious position he finds himself in, on (what we know, but Harry doesn't) the eve of Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War 2. He is (a) balancing a Communist Japanese mistress, (b) trying to avoid a psychotic samurai who's out to kill him, (c) having an affair with a married Brit, with whom he is planning to escape, (d) attempting to pull off a ruse involving tons of missing oil.

Minor complaint: There are a lot of characters, and my tiny brain had a hard time keeping them straight. Especially during the flashbacks.

There is a lot of action, twists, and surprises packed into the last handful of pages. And all along, Smith does a masterful job of picturing prewar Japan, sights, sounds, smells, mindsets. There are cameos from General Tojo and Admiral Yamamoto. As I've said about Dennis Lehane's historical novels: Smith either did a hell of a lot of meticulous research, or had access to a time machine.

Last Modified 2018-01-26 5:13 AM EST

URLs du Jour


■ Proverbs 16 had only four verses extolling the virtues of kings, but … it seemed to go on longer than that. Today, in Proverbs 16:16, the Proverbialist provides equally-questionable sagacity:

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold,
    to get insight rather than silver!

Spoken by someone who already had plenty of gold and silver, methinks. And probably youthinks too. If only the Proverbialist had known about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, he might have come up with a more credible Proverb.

■ The great Bryan Caplan quotes the great Michael Huemer on Ultra-Ineffective Altruism.

I see that Bill Miller has given $75 million to the Philosophy Department at Johns Hopkins. Background: Miller is a brilliant investment manager who, it turns out, once studied philosophy at Hopkins and believes that his philosophy training helped him to think clearly and cogently.

I hate* to rain on anyone's parade, but this is among the most wasteful charitable donations I've ever heard of (apart from gifts to even richer universities, like Harvard). Let's review (a) what this money will accomplish, and (b) what else could have been accomplished with a $75 million charitable donation.

[*Note: Here, by "hate" I mean "very much enjoy".]

As a philosopher himself (but not at Johns Hopkins), Huemer is arguing against interest here. The whole thing is funny and insightful.

■ Are college students hopeless snowflakes? A University Not Near Here provides evidence: UConn Offers Counseling for Students Upset at ‘Even the Thought of’ a Ben Shapiro Speech

Upon learning that conservative speaker Ben Shapiro had been invited to campus, the University of Connecticut immediately offered its student body counseling services.

“We understand that even the thought of an individual coming to campus with the views that Mr. Shapiro expresses can be concerning and even hurtful and that’s why we wanted to make you aware as soon as we were informed,” stated a campus-wide email from associate vice president and chief diversity officer Joelle Murchison, according to an article in Shapiro’s Daily Wire.

The NRO author, Katherine Timpf, notes the proactivity of the UConn administration, basically assuming and—to a certain extent—encouraging this sort of maladaptive response to contrary opinion.

■ But where colleges go, is the entire country destined to follow? Don't the college snowflakes deserve protection from hearing contrary opinions for the rest of their sheltered lives? George F. Will wonders what will happen When the whole country becomes a campus safe space. It's an interesting take on a recent study that describes the country's increasing polarization, each side retreating into a safe-space bubble. GFW's bottom line:

We should regret only unjust distrust; distrust of the untrustworthy is healthy. Considering the preceding 50 years, from the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, through Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction, and “if you like your health care plan you can keep it,” a default position of suspicion is defensible. And consumers of media products should remember Jerry Seinfeld’s oblique skepticism: “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.”

■ Eric the Viking Pundit makes an excellent point on the politics of immigration: The impossible dream.

Here's what I don't understand: Obama and the Democrats had eight years to put in place some kind of legislative remedy to help the "Dreamers."  But despite a promise as a candidate to make immigration reform "a top priority in my first year as president" he did nothing.  Then, once his Democrat majorities were safely squandered away, he flip-flopped on his Presidential authority and launched the illegal DACA program.

Why, it's almost as if Democrats would prefer to keep immigration as a political football instead of actually trying to do something about it.

■ Which brings us to our Tweet du Jour from Mr. Ramirez:

The next few weeks should be interesting. Not good for the country, but at least… interesting.

Last Modified 2018-01-25 8:07 AM EST