Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fort Lauderdale Skyline is Banking Mecca

It didn't occur to me until I started fine-tuning these photos that the Fort Lauderdale skyline is dominated by big banking institutions. These photos were taken from the roof of the public parking garage. The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Main Library, and several college campuses also are located in this area.
Nearby are the tony shops and restaurants of Las Olas Boulevard and RiverWalk.

National City and Wachovia banks have their logos on the skyscrapers above. Regions Bank claims the white tower, below right. Left, the rooftop terraces, with their greenery, remind me of the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Bank of America marks its territory, above right. In the foreground is an apartment building. A dark glass building in West Palm Beach, similar to the twins below, is known as Darth Vader.

This large mural is on the side of a parking garage on Broward Boulevard, near the area that serves the Courthouse, museum, and main library. It depicts images from South Florida history and culture.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Donald Trump Dumpster-Diving
in Trash Bin of Popular Culture

Just when I think that Donald Trump could not possibly do anything more tasteless, trashy, bombastic, or self-promoting than he’s already done, the guy finds a new way to delve into the trash bin of popular culture.

After buying World Wrestling’s Monday Night RAW program, Trump is all over the airwaves boasting about how now things will be done his way. Okay, wrestling fans, perhaps I am not appreciative enough of this popular culture entertainment. After all, even French semiotician and egghead extraordinaire Roland Barthes analyzed wrestling back in the 1970s.

Critics are saying that the purchase of this successful TV franchise is one more proof of Trump’s Midas touch. But no one ever said Midas was a nice guy, certainly not his daughter who turned into a golden statue when he touched her. Too bad Trump isn’t as similarly mute.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ilona Andrews’ Builds Kate Daniels’ Series
To Greatest Strength in Magic Strikes

The husband-wife writing team of Gordon and Ilona Andrews build fresh strength into their Kate Daniels’ urban fantasy series with the third entry, Magic Strikes. I devoured it, right after finishing Magic Burns.

Kate Daniels is a stone killer of ghastly supernatural beings in a world where magic and technology exist as erratically alternating realities that wash across the Atlanta landscape. The origins of Kate’s considerable magical resources – and magical sword called the Slayer – are cloaked in mystery in Magic Bites and Magic Burns. They become clear in the third novel in a back story as exotic and compelling as any of the thousand-and-one tales of Arabian nights. Andrews so deftly hides this back story that the reader is hardly aware of this missing element in the first two action-packed tales. We are used to stories commencing in media res (in the middle of things), and do not require every last detail about a hero’s biography. Does anyone care whether Sam Spade grew up in Iowa or California? Probably not. But Kate's back story matters. A lot.

Another subplot that keeps the stories steaming along is the mutual attraction between Kate and the lord of the shape shifters, the were-lion king Curran. His Beastliness, as the smart-mouth Kate calls him, has been keeping closer tabs on her than she’s known until this third novel.

“'His Majesty needs a can-I girl . . . and I’m not it,'” Kate tells a friend and a were-hyena at lunch. Asked to explain, Kate “leaned back. ‘Can I fetch you your food, Your Majesty? Can I tell you how strong and mighty you are, Your Majesty? Can I pick out your fleas, Your Majesty? Can I kiss your ass, Your Majesty? Can I . . .’”

At this point, Kate realizes the others have gone eerily silent. “'Technically, it should be may I’” Curran says without missing a beat from behind her. Like all cats, he has the gift of silent feet, even in human form.

This is a couple in the tradition of Hollywood’s fast-talking babes and smart-mouthed tough guys – a Nick and Nora Charles for a world where myth, murder, and mayhem meld in a seamless, intelligent blend. Long may they reign. In the first two books, they have slaughtered legions of the undead and vanquished an evil god trying to incarnate and destroy humankind. No wonder this busy pair do not have time for romance.

It’s taken three books for readers’ to get a figurative handle on Kate Daniels and for Curran to move in to get a literal handle on this killer chick with blood that can freeze in a cannibal villain’s veins, creating needles that rip him from the inside-out.

The denouement of Magic Strikes is a richly imaginative whorl of demons and monsters. Each new phantasmagorical creature is pulled from the far reaches of creativity that awe and delight me. How do the Andrews think of this stuff? The long story arc of the three novels, including the slow character development of Kate, astonishing revelations about the secondary character Shaiman, and the simmering romance, cohere gracefully. The third book was well worth the wait, and I am eager for four promised additions to this series.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tea Makes the World Seem Better
Even When It's Not

Tea is a restorative drink, with as many shades of subtle flavor as wine. HBO has serialized The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency (books by Alexander McCall Smith). The number one lady detective, Precious Ramotswe (played by Jill Scott), enjoys a cup of tea to handle every situation. It is wise and altogether civilized.

I decided against reading the first book in the series a long time ago, but I may have to give it a second chance.

I have had only part-time work for a year now. This situation has called for a lot of tea drinking, as does having a job, working, relaxing, thinking, writing, and reading.

I’ve given up, for the most part, items such as cookies, breakfast Danish, chocolate, and steak. I’ve had to live on rice and beans in the past, and I can do it again. Rice and vegetables are healthy. I’m purchasing a cheaper brand of ice cream, too. And I’m wondering if I can afford to take advantage of the economic stimulus package tax credit to buy a new central air conditioning/heating system. This one has been limping along since I bought the place four years ago, and I’m not sure that even a shot of Freon will get the old cow up and going again.

I have not yet given up drinking tea. I laid in some English Breakfast tea, from England yet, at $2 a box from Big Lots, compared with $3.69 at the supermarket. It’s not always available, so I may go back next week for more. I feel a bit better when I open the pantry and see it stocked with something I love.

For that matter, I love opening the pantry, because it represents a really good buy and timely find. I was longingly perusing online stores for a free-standing pantry that would open with narrow shelves on the doors and inside. The cheapest one was $200 plus shipping, and it was a bit rustic for my style. Then I found one exactly the same color as my kitchen cabinets in a Goodwill Store for $40. Such a deal.

Tea and the occasional bargain are beacons of light in hard times. But I wish times were not so hard. I will be 61 on Monday, and I do not much feel like celebrating.

On a completely different topic, I am looking for feedback on my page about Chinese Clothes at I’ve also changed the template design for the whole site. I will be rewriting and revising many existing pages over the next month or two.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cash-for-Clunkers: Another Tax-and-Spend Fiasco

A bill known as Cash-for-Clunkers is slipping in under the radar of most citizens, but it’s another government giveaway that will cost taxpayers. On the surface it sounds great: $3K to turn in your high-emission vehicle and buy a more fuel-efficient car.

I’ve been researching this bill for an interested organization, but I only write about what interests me on my personal blog. I'm all for fuel-efficient cars, but I do not want to pay for someone else's new Lexus hybrid while all I can afford is what I've got.

Here are some of the most important reasons why taxpayers are suckers – again – if we let Congress spend our money on this.

  • The cost of producing each fuel-efficient vehicle offsets the lower-emissions that will be produced. There is no environmental benefit.
  • The emissions standards are not high enough for the trade-ins.

  • Fuel savings are not great enough to compensate for the new car payment over time.

  • The reimbursement is so low that many people are better off selling their older vehicles privately.

  • Destroying older vehicles drives up used-car and parts prices. Hobbyists who restore classic cars are very concerned and are among those who do not support this bill.

  • Now that gas prices are lower, Americans are returning to their love for bigger cars. A cash or tax incentive is not going to change Americans’ love-affair with their cars.

  • American car manufacturers are not in a position to benefit from a spike in sales; their lower-emission vehicles are not yet available in great numbers.

  • The people who will benefit are those who already have enough money to trade in their older cars for a new one. Of course, this will be financed by ordinary people who are struggling to stay afloat.

One drawback I have not found many considering is what we are going to do with the toxic batteries from hybrid and electric cars. This makes sense because the bill does not require purchase of a hybrid car; most purchases will be fuel-efficient internal combustion engines.

Batteries are another cost of hybrid car ownership that often is not considered against the price of owning a hybrid or electric car; it run to a few thousand dollars to replace the battery/ies.

In summary, Cash-for-Clunkers not an idea whose time has come; it’s an idea that taxpayers do not need to finance.

If you want sources, I’ve got dozens of them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

McCullough's Hero with Chaos in His
Eyes Disappoints in CodeSpell

CodeSpell is the third entry in Kelley McCullough’s series about Ravirn/Raven, a 23-year-old hacker descended from the gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon. The first book, WebMage, is a unique blend of urban fantasy and cyberpunk fiction, seasoned with Greek myth. The series starts with Ravirn, a mortal descendent of the deities with superhuman powers, and an implausible plot about a magical mweb through which the immortals communicate.

By the second novel, Cybermancy, Ravirn has been banished from the House of the Fates, handmaidens to Necessity. Necessity has become the not-so-artificial computer intelligence that runs the universe. The plot is about how Persephone codes a virus into Necessity, The virus secures Persephone’s permanent release from Hades, where she has been unhappily forced to dwell for the six cold months of the year since time immemorial. The virus also knocks out vast portions of the m[agic]web.

The swirling stuff of Chaos appears in his eyes when Ravirn is transformed into the Raven. He is able to transform himself into a large version of that bird and to travel through chaos with greater mastery. He also is now a lord of his own royal house outside of space and time, rather than scion of the Fates.

CodeSpell picks up the story. Ravirn is tasked with rebooting Necessity, down for the count with the Persephone virus. During the time of the reboot, Ravirn and powers competing to get there first will be able to refashion the Universe, should he or they presume to do so.

A secondary plot is Ravirn’s romance with Cerise, another child of the royal Houses of Fate. A true child of order, Cerise is a crack programmer to Ravirn’s rebellious hacker. She is disturbed by the chaos in Ravirn’s eyes. She returns home to the Fates, to work on security programs in face of threats from the broken mweb. This leaves the field open for Tisiphone, one of the three Furies, who lusts for Ravirn.

Winged Tisiphone is naked with fire where strippers usually strategically place sequins. This is too much like an adolescent’s wet dream to be appealing. No doubt this is McCullough’s target readership, not an old babe like me.

CodeSpell is proof that there can be too much of a good thing. WebMage was unique, one of those unexpected finds that appear serendipitously on a library shelf. Cybermancy was a good effort to wrap up some loose ends at the end of book one. Ravirn’s transformation to a character of comic-book proportions and the increasing incredulous plot twists mean that I may not make it to the end of CodeSpell, Ravirn Book 3. I won’t be reading Mythos, which will be released in May.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Night Illusions and The Dawn of Reality

Things that look brilliant or scary at two in the morning often don’t survive in the light of day. Have you ever awoken with a cold sweat, worried about a loved one’s health or your own survival – physical, financial, or emotional? Have you ever had a plan that seemed inspired during those quiet, dead hours and became quite ordinary after the sun rose?

This weekend, I discovered that my little website, Fashion After 50, has quietly been earning a few pennies from Google Adsense over the past few months. Indeed, even this blog followed only by a few dear fellow blog-hers and friends, may have had some click-throughs.

That $7.12 seemed like a fortune. For three days, I visited my Adsense account obsessively. I watched the affiliate marketing earnings mushroom to over $8.50. Watching seven dollars turn to eight-and-a-half, nickel-by-nickel and dime-by-dime, makes watching ice form look downright exciting.

I’ve worked throughout the weekend to revise pages, practice code to wrap copy around ads, and experiment with layout. I’ve updated and added new articles. I worked until nearly 3 a.m., and I was on fire with hope that I could turn Fashion After 50 into a place visitors love for finding fashion for older women.

Then I looked at the Alexa rankings for Fashion After 50. Alexa is the Supreme Court of online website rankings, wrecking sought-after judgments about who is in the coveted top 100,000.

I know that a little bitty affiliate marketing website with less one hundred visitors was not in the top tier. I just wanted to take a peek anyway.

The average time spent at Fashion After 50 by a guest is a half-minute. Thirty seconds!

Some things look so much better when it’s dark outside – like a Christmas tree trimmed with lights and ornaments that glitter and shine. Others look worse, like a darkened alley hiding threat, violence, and decay. Day dawns. The Christmas tree is merely a dying pine that needs water. The alley is simply a bleak cement space that needs cleaning and care. Illusions, for better or for worse, melt away.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Bleak Look of Recession
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 2009

This cement wasteland was a bustling new and used car dealership near the heart of Fort Lauderdale. Cars whisk past on busy Sunrise Boulevard, heading toward the upscale Galleria Mall, just a few blocks away. Strip malls and businesses line this six-lane highway, some starving more quickly than others. These photos depict a panorama. Below, I am looking directly east, toward the Galleria Mall and ocean.

This view also faces east. The vast showrooms, guarded now by chain-link fencing, are a bleak memorial to American's economic distress.

The photo below faces north, directly in front of where I was standing at one-time entrance to the facility.

Facing west, the cement graveyard of the auto industry stretches many blocks in both directions.

This pile of rubble was a decorative island for plantings, on the fancy cobblestone drive into the auto dealership.

It hurts the heart to see the decay, the far-stretching emptiness of an economic boneyard such as this.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Changing Rainbow of Light: Art
At Main Library, Fort Lauderdale

A new art installation in downtown Fort Lauderdale features an ever-changing rainbow of irredescent light. A woman sitting bottom left shows how large it is. It is located outside the Main Library. These photos show the colors as they evolve through one cycle.

The panels suggest solar energy may be the power source. Unfortunately, I took many of the early photos through the railing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Significance of Place in Urban Fantasy
And Burke's Robicheaux Novels

The lyrical pose of James Lee Burke is no less evocative when he writes about the West, where he has lived and taught for many years. Yet I found myself unable to complete Swan Peak, the first time I have not completed a Burke book. My fascination with New Orleans led me to his detective Dave Robicheaux mysteries. The stories he sets anywhere else do not have the same effect on me. How even can the title, Swan Peak, compare with the gleeful rhythms and visions conjured by titles such as

  • The Tin Roof Blow Down
  • Pegasus Descending
  • A Morning for Flamingos
  • Jolie Blon’s Bounce
  • A Stained White Radiance or, my personal all-time favorite,
  • In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead.

The dream of New Orleans is so deeply rooted in my soul I cannot trace its sinuous hold. Did it start because I had studied French from first grade until I was 20, and New Orleans is the only French-speaking city in the United States? If so, why did I not fantasize about Quebec, practically next door to my upstate New York hometown?

Was it the novel, Dinner at Antoine’s, on the library shelf that hinted at a place in America as foreign as France? By the time I discovered Dr. John in his voodoo chant regalia and the Mardi Gras Indian bands, such as the Wild Tchoupitoulas that were briefly popular in the 1970s, my interest in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) was cemented.

The first time my marriage broke up, I threw just about all the clothing I owned in the backseat of a beat-up Beetle (what else? in that era), crunched some uppers and drove to New Orleans in 24 hours. My first sight of the antebellum mansions along the Gulf Coast – now swept away by hurricane Katrina – is so strong that I have dared not visit that ravaged area since my last drive there in November 2004.

No wonder I have been drawn to Charlaine Harris’ Southern vampire series, with its Louisiana locale. None of the urban fantasy writers I have lately been reading are stylists of Burke’s caliber. I would rather read, perhaps, any tale set in the NOLA environs than a lyrical story set in Montana. This set me thinking about the role of place in the urban fantasy genre in particular and in compelling writing in general.

Ilona Andrews’ heroine inhabits a parallel Atlanta, a city I know a little after six years at the University of Georgia in nearby Athens. Harry Dresden inhabits Chicago, a city I’ve visited twice for conventions, backdrop for the V.I. Warshawski mysteries and sometimes seen in films. Kate Morgan, Kim Harrison’s witch, lives in Cleveland. Any of these places could be named Anywhere, USA, for all that sense of place matters. They are cities, concrete wastelands that look gray even on a sunny day. Character and plot hold my attention in these stories, not sense of place.

How important is place for a well-told tale? In the hands of a master word slinger, place is another character permeating every action with its history. Could Casablanca happen anywhere else but in the exotic locate of wartime Morocco? No other city but New Orleans has a street or A Streetcar Named Desire, the pulsing sense of place that throbs throughout Tennessee Williams play. The seething undercurrents of race and sex of the old South collide with the weather to create an explosive brew in Williams’ The Long Hot Summer. Weather and place also catalyze the drama of the film Key Largo.

Joshua Meyerowitz wrote an important book of media analysis, No Sense of Place. He persuasively argued that television had dissolved social norms between on-stage and back-stage. We have the outworking of this theory in the current craze for reality TV and the plague of social networking, in which nothing is too personal to be made public.

Me, I embrace a sense of place. I love where I live, and I am clinging stubbornly to this toehold in the sun despite the harsh economic climate. I escape into worlds of urban fantasy in which demons are no less dangerous but contained with charms and incantations, circles of salt, blood rituals, and alliances with creates that never were. These are other worlds with a verisimilitude to my own but different enough that it is the world of fantastical beings and events that captures my attention, not details of the cityscape. Harris’s Louisiana alone stands out as distinct. I hope that James Lee Burke bring Robicheaux back to Iberia parish and all things Louisiana.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files:
Inventive Urban Fantasy

Harry Dresden is a wizard, the only practicing wizard-private eye in Chicago. Of indeterminate age but most likely in his 30s, Dresden is a hero in the wise-cracking, tough-guy tradition of Sam Spade and the other film noir private eyes. Butcher packs each book with rollicking action, plot twists, and ensemble characters. Working with the Special Investigations team of the Chicago Police Department, Dresden is their consultant for the scary things that go bump in the night and that people prefer not to believe are real.

In the series opener, Storm Front, Dresden battles a black magician. Lieutenant Kerrin Murphy heads up the Special Investigations team. She is embattled not only by the black magic murderer but by police politics; there are those in high places who consider her work unnecessary.

The adversaries of Dresden and Murphy include giant scorpions, a demon, and a power-mad black practitioner who rips the hearts from victims while not even being present. Dresden triumphs, just barely, with potions, power objects, and occasional gunfire.

Fool Moon introduces a pack of werewolves who channel their magical powers for good. He and Murphy barely escape from the bad werewolves; it would spoil the suspense to say who’s who. Dresden also comes by an attractive love interest.

Most of the series, which stops numbering the novels after nine, is available at one library or another in my area. The vagaries of availability led me to move on to the fourth book, Summer Knight. Enough of the third book, Grave Peril, is filled in so that I can make sense of what went before without knowing so much I no longer want to read it. In short, Butcher does a good job of allowing each book to stand alone.

Charlaine Harris’s Southern vampire series remains my favorite in the urban fantasy genre. Sookie Stackhouse is a nice Southern gal, the vampires come preciously close to being human in their motivations and comport, and gore is minimized. All in all, this series is endearing.

Lori Handeland’s werewolf/nightcreatures series is heavy-handed on eroticism. She seems to be evolving in both character development and plot twists.

Kelly McCullough’s webmage series, with three books so far, is closest in tone to the Dresden files. Both feature magical heroes – one human, one nearly immortal. Both pack guns, are rebellious smart-mouths, chivalrous, clever, and honorable. One channels his magical energy through the computer web; the other blows out computers and most other forms of technology when near them.

Kate Daniels is a feminine counterpart to Harry Dresden. Magic Bites is the first entry in Ilona Andrews’s promising series. Daniels is another freelancer magic worker who polices evil mayhem at the boundary between technical reality and sorcery. Andrews’ vampires are much different than those in the world created by Harris. They are mostly mindless, blood-thirsty and evil; they are compared to cockroaches. Wizards can animate the vampires' bodies for their own, usually nefarious, purposes. There’s great potential in a romance developing between a were-lion, king of the shape shifters, and Kate. Magic Burns is the second Kate Daniels’ book.

In summary, the Dresden files are fast-paced, entertaining books in which Jim Butcher creates a magical world ruled by its own laws. Harry Dresden is an appealing and entertaining hero in the ever-growing pantheon of urban fantasy novels.