As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American AgendaAs Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins

As Texas goes, says Collins, so goes the nation, and there are some revelatory and I must admit pretty horrifying details about how the state of Texas has led the way in banking laws, education (especially sex education, or embargo of), textbooks, global warming, immigration and voters' rights, written with that lighthearted acerbity we enjoy so much in her NYT opinion column. In the prologue she writes

Texas banking laws set the stage for the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. The 2008 economic meltdown was the product of a financial deregulation that was the work of/Texas senator Phil Gramm. Our energy policy is the way it is in large part because Texas politicians and Texas special interests like it that way...Schools from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, have been remade, reorganized, and sometimes totally upended under a federal law based on Texas education reform. For several generations, our kids have been reading textbooks written with an eye to Texas sensibilities. Texas presidents have the led the country into every land war the United States has been involved in since Vietnam.

This wasn't really a book, it was a 200-page column with a bunch of appendices supporting her points. I wonder if she wasn't perhaps rushing to print before her premise became dated, because I found at least two gaping holes in her logic.

1. She doesn't talk near enough about the Hispanic population of Texas, which in number is rapidly overtaking the Anglo population of Texas. Anglo Texans are largely Republican. Hispanic Texans are largely Democrat. Texas is on the brink of going blue in a big way. I wish she'd spent more time with guys like San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. There is the future of Texas.

2. She also makes no reference to e-books, which is on its own cusp, that of revolutionizing textbooks. I speak from personal experience here: Changing the text of an ebook is so easy compared to changing the text of a print book. So what if Texas wants to axe the New Deal or evolution or global warming or separation of church and state out of its textbooks? Let 'em. In ebooks, the rest of the states can add all those subjects right back in with relatively few labor costs. And there is the future of textbooks.

This is a book worth reading, but it might have been more accurate to have called it "As Texas Went."

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All Engineers, All the Time

[from the vaults, 2007] April 2 It’s 94F on the bridge. It’s 120F in the engine room. See the photo of PO Warren Grimes next to the thermometer if you don’t believe me. I got the engineering tour today courtesy of EO LT Todd Raybon. First thing required, steel-toed boots, borrowed from LTJG Morgan…

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A Day Off

[from the vaults, 2007] April 1 A real day off – the first since the ship left San Francisco 20 days ago. No drills, no go fast alerts, no fishing vessels who might be smuggling migrants, no haring off after ghost radar contacts. Palm Sunday services were the only organized event. Sun and seas…

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No Reveille

[from the vaults, 2007] March 31 When I was up in the bow last night I saw thunderheads developing off our stern, and this morning they paid off with thunder, lightning and rain. At 0730 they were mopping up the residue in the bridge. Ops (LT James Terrell) is standing the four to eight…

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SCAT Drill

[from the vaults, 2007] March 30 Prior to refueling the helo, the bridge crew guesses how many gallons it will take to fill ‘er up. I remember this from the Alex Haley, it was and is a subject of competition and raillery and people are very stoked when they win (the winning guess is…

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The great thing about going to book conferences is that there you are, penned up with a bunch of other people who all love books. This time it was the Poisoned Pen Con in Phoenix, a small, intimate gathering with single-track paneling where you have time to visit with other readers and hobnob with your favorite authors.

One of my favorite authors is Francine Matthews (aka Stephanie Barron) and she and I and Barbara Peters were talking about our favorite Golden Age mysteries. They were as one in declaring The Tiger in the Smoke to be one of their favorites.

I'd read a couple of the Albert Campion novels way back when, didn't like them much and moved on, but if Francine and Barbara say it it must be so, I picked up a copy.

London, 1950. Beautiful couturier Meg Elginbrodde lost her husband in World War II and after mourning him for five years has become engaged to Geoffrey Levett. Unfortunately, as soon as they announce their wedding photos of her previously deceased husband begin appearing in the society journals, and she calls in Campion for help.

There is some lovely description here, especially of the oppressive London fog, "a saffron blanket soaked in ice-water" and "[the fog] oozed in ungenially, to smear sooty fingers over the two elegant young people who sat inside" and "greasy drapery." Yeesh.

But what I love most about this book is the character descriptions. Take Campion's associate, Divisional Detective Chief Inspector Charles Luke:

Charlie Luke in his spiv civilians looked at best like a heavyweight champion in training...His pile-driver personality...It made him an alarming enemy for someone.

When he is detailing a subordinate to accompany an unwilling Canon Avril, Luke says, "He's my senior assistant, a quiet, discreet sort of man," he added firmly, eying the sergeant with open menace." You'd develop quiet discretion, too, if Luke looked at you that way.

Of Canon Avril, Meg's father, Allingham writes:

He believed in miracles and frequently observed them, and nothing astonished him. His imagination was as wild as a small boy's and his faith ultimate. In ordinary life he was, quite frankly, hardly safe out.

(As is made manifestly obvious when he nearly gets his daughter killed, for which Allingham never brings him to judgement, the only thing that irritates me here.)

There are lots of fun throwaway lines and phrases everywhere. Of one of the minor characters Allingham writes, "Her voice was gentle, placatory, and never-ending." At one point Levett says, "Values are so relative...Hitler wanted the modern world. Well, I mean to say, Campion, look at the modern world!"

Francine and Barbara recommended the next two books in the Campion series, too, The Beckoning Lady, which I've already started, and Hide My Eyes, which is on my to-read shelf.

# Permanent link to Time Traveling Back to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Hazard to Navigation

[from the vaults, 2007] March 29 We came upon a floating refrigerator. (It seems to be a trend, as this is the second floating refrigerator of the patrol.) This naturally constitutes a hazard to navigation which must be removed. In this case we remove it with 9-mm handguns, shotguns and M-16s. Not an organization…

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What if FDR sent a twenty-one year old JFK to Europe on the very eve of World War II itself in order to find out if and how Hitler was smuggling money into the US to influence the next election?

"I've been turning it over in my mind, Jack--this trip of yours," the President was saying. "To the Nazis, you're just the American ambassador's son. But to me, you're a perfect spy. My independent thinker. Arriving in London with a fresh outlook and an unclouded mind. As far as the Nazis are concerned, you're clean as the driven snow. They know your dad and I don't always agree. They'll never expect you to be my man in Europe."

Jack, who is as ill with some undiagnosable disease as he can be and not be dead, finds this proposal flattering and irresistible. If he's going to die at any moment any way, why not die being FDR's man in Europe?

So in Jack 1939 he boards the Queen Mary for England and nearly all the European capitals, closely pursued by the White Spider, a Nazi SS agent who is very quick with a very sharp knife, closely cultivated by German intelligence agent Willi Dobler, and intensely damned by every American ambassador in every European capital for the trouble he causes them, not excluding his own father. There is a beautiful older woman, Diana Playfair, another amateur spy with whom Jack has a passionate affair, whose ending will break your heart as painfully as it breaks Jack's.

One of the most enjoyable things in this book are all the walk-on parts by real people, beginning with Jack's family (Joes Sr. and Jr. don't come off all that well, and Rose, my god, Jack would have been better off with Dracula's bride as his mother) and including just about everyone else in the World War II Almanac.

Oh yes, J. Edgar Hoover is here, too, and up to his usual Machiavellian shennanigans. Fear not, FDR's got his number, and unbeknownst to Hoover, he's got Jack, too. A fun read.

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