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I could summarize my review in three words: Read. This. Book.
Or if I expanded it just a little — Read this book, today.
I haven't had this much fun reading a book in a very long time. John Bascom joins a very elite group of political satirists who can command an audience with exactly the right turns of phrase. The running malapropisms gag alone will keep you stitched up. I laughed and guffawed and hit an OMFG moment on practically every page.
Caine's Pestilence is a masterstroke of satirical genius. Nancy Pelosi as president? The underlying scenario is frighteningly authentic. A nation of sheep led by the nose to expect their government to satisfy their every whim? Don't we already have that? Bascom posits a reaction to an accidental event which threatens to overturn the welfare state apple cart that reads like it was reported by The New York Times.
And what a welfare state it is! The country has ratified a Fundamental Human Needs Amendment codifying every liberal shibbeloth as the supreme law of the land. All women are entitled to free cosmetic surgery! Collectivization is the order of the day as wealth is confiscated to fund mountains of social programs. All broadcast news is produced by the FCC — the Fair Communications Commission — under the control of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. Fox News is illegal. George W. Bush is serving a life sentence for war crimes.
Yeah, Bascom's depiction of our dystopian progressive future is quite believable. I couldn't put it down.
John Caine is a mild-mannered banker thrust into a maelstrom of Washington, DC political intrigue. As his wife is seduced by the siren song of a "self help" guru whose real agenda is to subjugate her will to that of the nanny state John immerses himself in work. And starts tinkering in a makeshift basement laboratory using surplus bio-engineering equipment he surrepticiously borrows from his new job.
Events have a way of escalating in unforeseen directions and Caine's experiments soon lead to a confrontation with the full power of an omnipresent bureaucracy. He's convicted of Domestic Terrorism and sentenced to death by hanging.
Caine's Pestilence is his memoirs, written inside his cell on death row, completed only hours before his appointment with the gallows. Is John Caine a hero? Not exactly. Nor is he a villian. He's just an ordinary man, swept up in a vortex of extraordinary events.
I won't give away the ending, but I will say it was satisfying, in a way that many thrillers are not. It was believable and not contrived to tie up the loose ends in a nice neat bow. With his debut novel John Bascom hits a home run.
And in case I didn't mention it yet, read this book!
John Bascom submitted a
guest post to the blog while I was on vacation. I asked if I could review
his novel and he graciously sent me a signed copy. Yeah, it's a keeper.
Today I received in the mail a delightful new children's book, The Fisherman's Catch by Thomas Wright. Mr. Wright emailed to ask if I'd review his new "Conservative Bedtime Story" and of course I said yes.
I let Sophie read it first. She was immediately thrilled by the absolutely amazing artwork. Each vibrant illustration helps the story leap from the pages. And to her credit she got the point of the story right away.
Han is a simple fisherman and each day he catches a few fish and brings them back to his village. He keeps a couple of fish for his family and trades the rest with the villagers. They give him many things for his fish because it takes so much time and effort to catch each one.
One day Han perfects a new way to catch fish. And he suddenly is catching more fish than ever before. So much fish in fact that he can now sell them to everyone in the village, even the poorest people. A plentiful supply of fish means Han can charge much less for each one.
Everyone is happy! Well, almost everyone. The village Chief notices that Han is far more prosperous than everyone else. "Why," the Chief asks, "does Han have so much while others have nothing?"
Sound familar? But no, even though the story is set on a island very much like Hawaii, it doesn't mean the Chief is played by Barack Obama. Maybe a cousin or a nephew…
Anyway, Big Chief Compassion takes it upon himself to tax Han half his daily catch. The line in the book is "for the good of the village." Sophie's voice was dripping with sarcasm as she read it. That's my girl! And when the Chief seized the fish over Han's objections she exclaimed "that's not right!"
You can guess what happens next. Even though the Chief swore he would only give fish to the truly needy it turned out that a lot more people decided they were "needy" than he had anticipated. Pretty soon most of the villagers are lounging around waiting for their daily delivery of free fish.
Yeah, that Chief is sounding a lot more like Lyndon Johnson…
One day Han Galt decided he'd had enough. A friendly traveler told him of a distant village, a land of opportunity, where nobody confiscates anyone's fish and everyone helps each other to succeed. Han packs his bags and leaves the village.
The Chief is not amused.
Mr. Wright delivers a powerful lesson in a format that is suitable for all ages. People work hardest when they're working for themselves! And of course, layabouts never get ahead.
By the end of the story the village where Han and his new friends now live is thriving. Han's old village is deserted. And the Chief is totally befuddled because his Social Security checks keep bouncing.
The Fisherman's Catch ought to be required reading in the White House and the halls of Congress. There are no big words so even a Democrat who went to public school should be able to understand it. Mr. Wright helpfully includes some thought-provoking questions for discussion at the back of the book, too.
We had a lot of fun talking through them over dinner. You will too. Buy this book for the kids in your life. Buy this book for the politicians in your life too. It's a message that we all need to hear, delivered via a fantastically fun and enjoyable story.
The Fisherman's Catch : A Conservative Bedtime Story
by Thomas Wright
illustrated by Heather Dixon
Available for $15.95 (plus s/h) from the publisher here.
FTC Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a free copy of the book to review.
Fire & Oak is the rebirth of the upscale South City Grill as a more casual and affordable establishment. Unfortunately "casual" seems to include disorganized management and inattentive, forgetful service. I should have known things would go wrong when I called for a reservation and the young lady on the phone said they don't take reservations anymore; "We're trying to build a walk-in business," she said. Uh oh. In this economy when a guy calls to make a reservation for 6 people, it's just plain dumb to tell him to come wait in line.
But it was Tammy's birthday and she really wanted to go there because our friend Brian raves about the Kobe beef burgers (with dijon aioli and Vermont cheddar). And the good news was that the burgers lived up to the hype. That was, of course, when we finally got to sit down to eat. Before that was the "30 to 45 minute" wait that took 2 hours. When we arrived the hostess said the wait for a table would be about 30 to 45 minutes. No problem, we took seats at the spacious bar and ordered cocktails. We then encountered what would turn out to be a common refrain for the evening — "sorry, we're out of that".
A refill on Tammy's Bombay Saphire martini? Sorry, we're out of that. A glass of milk for Sophie? Sorry, we're out of that. Stoli Orange on the rocks for Susy? Sorry, we're out of that. After 45 minutes I enquired of the hostess when our table would be ready; "about half an hour" was the dismissive response. Huh? We've already waited 45 minutes. We should have left and gone somewhere else but Tammy really wanted that Kobe burger. So we waited. Half an hour later, "at least 20 minutes" is the latest estimate. Meanwhile, there are empty tables scattered around the restaurant. Filling them doesn't seem to be a priority, yet there is quite a crowd of people at the bar waiting for a table. All night long, in plain view of our perch, was a nice sized banquette which would have easily fit all 6 of us; it sat empty, taunting us.
Finally, after nearly 2 hours of waiting, we were shown to a table. As we sat down our server came up to ask if we wanted drinks. I asked if she could bring some bread since we were pretty hungry. "Sorry, we're out of that". So we ordered our dinners. The food came quickly, was presented nicely, and for the most part was quite tasty. The Kobe burgers lived up to their reputation. Baby back ribs were tangy and fell off the bone. A petit filet mignon was seasoned just right. But "shrimp pad Thai" turned out to be a disappointment; spicy shrimp over angel hair pasta with some peanuts scattered around the plate is not "pad Thai".
Since it was Tammy's birthday we made a point of telling both the hostess and our server that we wanted them to bring out a dessert for her with a candle on top. Both assured us it would done. Except when it came time for dessert, they forgot. Her chocolate cake with ice cream arrived, no candle. A quick signal to the hostess got one sent over and we sang the traditional happy birthday song. But nobody was able to enjoy the dessert. The busboy had taken away all the silverware and dessert arrived without spoons or forks.
Did I mention that they only had valet parking? After paying the bill we went out into the cold to retrieve our cars. There was only one guy on valet duty. There were a few people ahead of us, it took him ten minutes before it was our turn. We were cold and tired and I'm afraid I gave him just a little bit of attitude getting into the car.
Patience? Sorry, we're out of that.
I spent the past week in a no wifi or broadband zone at a friend's beach house. I'd forgotten what it's like to live in the stone age like that. The local library has wifi, but only from 10 - 4. I'd much rather sit on the beach than in a library when I'm on vacation. I popped in there one day to search the net for a way to use my BlackBerry as a modem.
I found Shark Modem by Mobishark. They offer a free trial version which gives you up to 10 megabytes of usage before it locks up until you pay them $50. I downloaded it and installed the software on my laptop and BlackBerry. It seemed to work OK although there were a few glitches. I was desperate to get online at night so I took the plunge. They emailed me a registration code and I headed to the beach.
That was pretty much the last time I was able to get it to work sucessfully. Sigh. Their only means of support is online via their website. If I was able to get online I wouldn't need their support!
Each time I tried to connect it would hang. The laptop app would terminate unexpectedly and pop up that silly "tell Microsoft about this problem" box. Meanwhile the BlackBerry side kept dying with "bad DNS address". Every once in a while it would connect to a website and then just when I thought I'd finally got the hang of using it, it would crap out again.
Their user guide is practically useless. Its only mention of the bad DNS address error message is in relation to being a new customer of T-Mobile. I'm an old customer of AT&T. Their "solution" is to wait 5 days for T-Mobile to activate your account. Five days? Are they kidding? The only other suggestion I could find in their sparse documentation was to power off the BlackBerry, pull the battery for 30 seconds, reinsert it, power the BlackBerry back up and try again. That almost never worked, and around the 14th iteration it got old too.
Shark Modem is the fail. Don't waste your money.
Last night Tammy worked late and we decided to go out to dinner in town. Our neighbor Brian has raved about Casa Filippo so we gave it a try. It's located on Bloomfield Avenue, on the second floor above Metropolitan Surgical Supply. At the top of a big wide flight of stairs there are 2 beautifully appointed dining rooms. Linen tablecloths decorated with seasonal colors and fresh flowers adorned the tables. I had called ahead and asked if there were any tables available and was assured that there were. When we arrived we were seated promptly and our wine was whisked away and returned opened.
Then, nothing, for at least 10 minutes. Servers darted to and fro, but it seemed like we were invisible. We perused the menus and finally a young lady approached and seeing our wine, asked if Sophie would like something to drink. Tammy said "we're ready to order too" which seemed to surprise her, but she took our order and went to bring Sophie a glass of milk.
The menu selections were varied and everything looked good. Prices were in the $6 to $8 range for appetizers and $12 - $18 for entrees which is pretty much standard these days for decent Italian food. Tammy settled on risotto with wild mushrooms, Sophie ordered tortellini, and I chose veal saltimbocca.
Then, nothing, again for at least 10 more minutes. No bread, no glasses of water. Sophie was a little fidgety until her fried calamari appetizer appeared, as did some very good bread and our caesar salads. The salads were just the right size (many restaurants put a small mountain of lettuce on caesar salad) with shaved parmesan cheese and croutons. The calamari was lightly breaded and tasty with a tangy sauce along side.
By the time we finished our salads we had also depleted our bottle of wine (waiting more than half an hour for your food will do that). I ran down to the car to retrieve another bottle and got back to the table just as our main courses were served. I asked the young lady to open the second bottle but she dashed away leaving it on the table.
That would be the last we saw of her until it was time to ask for the check.
The food was excellent. My veal was tender, with just the right amount of prosciutto and cheese. They were a little skimpy on the spinach and potatoes but the 3 generous slices of veal made up for it. Tammy's risotto was good too, and Sophie's tortellini came in a wonderfully flavorful cream sauce.
I'm sure the meal would have been even better if we had had something to drink with it. Sophie was finished with her milk, and our wine glasses were empty. But, once again, we were invisible to the wait staff.
When we were finished eating a busboy came to clear the table and our waitress also returned to ask if we wanted coffee or dessert. We declined; our check arrived, and we departed with nary a thank you or a good night from anyone.
So, on the plus side, Brian's raving about the food was spot on.
But, on the minus side, the service was slow, inattentive, and unfriendly and really ruined the experience.
With so many very good dining choices in Caldwell, I seriously doubt we'll return to Casa Filippo any time soon.
UPDATE 07 Sep 2012 11:14:
A friend convinced me to go back to Casa Filippo.
And the experience was like night and day. Good service, same great food.
I've returned twice since, and been impressed each time.
Hooray, they got better.