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Book Review: World War Z

Sunday, April 26, 2009
Through a tragic misalignment of the stars, I was introduced by a coworker on Thursday to the book World War Z, a novel by Max Brooks that is purported to be "An Oral History of the Zombie War".

It should come as no surprise to even the most casual of readers that I'm a bit of a fan of the zombie genre. I put much more thought into the zombie menace than your average citizen. Does this make me weird, or just prepared for the unlikely?

In any event, I was thrilled to read this book. I literally picked it up and didn't put it down until I finished it, which was (admittedly) somewhat inconvenient in its timing. It was an absolute page-turner. Perhaps part of the reason is that it's presented as a series of vignettes; each short story (perhaps only a few pages in length) gives you a glimpse into a character's part of the zombie uprising: who they are, where they were, what they saw, how they reacted. It's hard to put down a book when something interesting is going to happen every few pages!

I'm not going to say that it's the best-written book I've ever read, but the writing was quite effective. While some characters seemed a little less-than-realistic and some of the voices seemed a little off, for the most part it was quite enjoyable. More to the point, the imagery the book conjured, through writing and presentation, was precise.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. I've spent the last few days wondering what I would do in the face of the zombie hordes; I'm not sure I like my answer (at least when faced with a multi-year war). Still, it was quite thought-provoking. Everyone should read this!

Rediscovering Forest Park

Sunday, April 19, 2009
Today was the day that I realized that Forest Park was within walking distance of my home. I was thinking about places I could go to hike (such as Multnomah Falls or Tryon Creek State Park) when it occurred to me that there's a 5000+ acre of beautiful park that's just 30 walking minutes away. I checked out a map of the park online and quickly was on my way.

As I was walking across the St. Johns Bridge (the most beautiful bridge in Portland, in my extremely humble opinion) I noticed, for the first time, the vastness and expanse of the park. For being inside the city limits, it blankets the West Hills of Portland in a brilliantly-hued canvas of green canopy.

Looking at a piece of Forest Park

Walking into the park it's easy to forget how close you are to a major metropolitan area. Portland truly has a great parks system, and Forest Park stands at the top of that system, a testament to the importance nature plays in the city's personality. The paths are beautiful, and I hope to be able to explore more of the 40 miles of path that are there.

Inside the park

What took this walk from good to great, though, was the view I noticed on the way down. Just a hundred or so paces into the trail is a lookout where you can get a beautifully framed view of the St. Johns Bridge. I'd love to go back at night sometime, with a real camera (not just the one built into my phone!)

The St. Johns Bridge, seen from Forest Park

So I think it's safe to say that I'll be going back soon.

The High Seas

Thursday, April 09, 2009
In the news has been the story of pirates who, off the coast of Somalia, attempted to hijack an ship sailing under the American flag. The crew managed to fend them off with the aid of the captain, who gave himself up as a hostage. That saga is still unfolding.

However, a great quote comes from Ken Menkhaus, an expert interviewed by the New York times:
"It’s a business model that has proven very effective for them."

I really agree with Ken on this. I'm not the first person to note publicly that piracy is a choice; it's a tradeoff or risk versus reward. In this case, piracy near the Horn of Africa has been frequent and newsworthy of the last couple years. It has become a medium-risk enterprise with high reward and low cost of failure. If only honest adventures could be classified that way.

With the high reward but only medium risk, it seems that the pirates have decided that reinvestment in their enterprise will pay off. The sophistication level of many of the attacks has been on the rise, and they've been using better equipment. What to do?

The current solution is more warships patrolling more frequently. A classic response, but it doesn't really seem to be fixing the problem, much like trying to fight an insurgent warfare with more tanks. We're just using the wrong tools. What if we started putting out smaller, faster boats to act as escorts for various ships, or embedding Marines on random ships? A few pirates getting shot in the act would tend to discourage the behavior. I mean, I think increasing the risk of the activity is the quickest and most effective way to decrease piracy at this point.

The problem isn't going to go away on its own and it's not going to get better without changing the parameters of the game. Let's just hope we can figure it out before too many people get hurt.



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