September 5th, 2011

Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

I've finished several books since midnight this morning.

First, the library book Hunting Eichmann which deals with the search for, capture of, and trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the key bureaucrats in the SS of Hitler's Germany, who was caught hiding in Argentina by Mossad agents after WWII. Well-written, full of interesting detail.

Second was Osprey Men-at-Arms #470: Roman Centurions 753 - 31 BC: Teh Kingdom and the Age of Consuls, which did a fair job of keeping me interested in the topic.

Then, Osprey Raid #2: Israel's Lightning Strike: The Raid on Entebbe 1976, very interesting read as it details much about the history of terrorists and airline hijackings.

Finally, for now, anyway, was Osprey Men-at-Arms #2: The Arab Legion which details the history of the British training of, and use of what became the Jordanian military.
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Book 49 for 2011

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. 299 pages

This was another reread, as I've managed to get hold of the second and third books in this series and wanted to refresh my memory of the first one before embarking on them.

Amelia Peabody, a sensible Victorian spinster, inherits a comfortable fortune and sets off to see the world. In Rome she rescues another lady who has foolishly run off with her lover and then been abandoned by him and the two of them set off to Egypt together where they encounter a mummy that won't lie down and the archaeologically inclined Emerson brothers.

Great fun - nicely written (and in the first person, which always appeals to me) with engaging characters and an interesting plot. I look forward to reading more of these.


A recent Bloomberg article Collapse )
Today's Book Review No. 28 considers Reckles$ Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.  The book has received some play, perhaps excessive play, on the right side of the Internet for assigning responsibility for the housing bubble to public policies that encouraged unwise borrowing and lending.  And yes, some members of Congress were excessively optimistic about the government sponsored lending agencies.  The more intriguing parts of the story, however, are in the emergence of mortgage-backed securities as gilt-edged investments.  Reckless Endangerment suggests a connection (never explicitly ruled out as a coincidence) between the brief interlude of Federal surpluses and the interest in convex combinations of mortgages as a safe asset. That demand has to be meaningful: many of the advocates of greater spending on infrastructure note the willingness of people to hold government bonds, Standard & Poor downgrade or not.

There's still a part of the story I don't understand, though.  The banking houses and rating agencies allegedly created these mortgage-backed securities as a way of generating underwriting fees.  General Sherman's observation about military logistics keeps bothering me: "No army dependent on wagons can venture more than 200 miles from its base, because the teams in coming and going consume the contents of the wagons."  No matter how one slices and dices portfolios of mortgages, the fees in slicing and dicing consume the contents of the principal and interest payments, and the book helpfully explains that mortgage portfolios are subject to three kinds of risk: the risk of default, which is salient in portfolios of subprime mortgages; the risk of interest rate changes, which an adjustable rate mortgage attempts to counteract; and the risk of early prepayment, which some homeowners attempt to do as a form of forced savings, and which some of the irregular lenders attempt to prevent in a number of ways.

The villain of the piece?  Precisely those banking houses.  Turn to page 274.
The voraciousness of these firms would also push the nation's economy into its most serious recession in more than seventy-five years.  Their avarice would finally, and forcefully, demonstrate how a noble idea like homeownership could be corrupted into something that so poisoned the global economy it was left in a semi-vegetative state.
Never mind the mixed metaphors.  Something went wrong, and there's plenty of blame to go around, and yet, the securitization beat goes on.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
book and cup

#89 Tiger Hills - Sarita Mandanna (2010)

When a flock of herons wheeled overhead at the moment of Devi's birth, it seemed that her life would be touched by fate... As a child, Devi befriends a young boy whose mother has died in tragic circumstances. Over the years, Devi and Devanna become inseparable as they go to school together and learn more about the extended family that surrounds them. However things change when Devi meets Muthi, a young man who has killed a tiger and is feted as a hero. Although she is still a child and Muthi is a man, Devi vows that one day she will marry him. It is this love that will gradually drive a wedge between her and her friend Devanna, who has been taken under the wing of a local missionary. For Devi is blind to the fact that Devanna himself has fallen for her. Devanna leaves the village to study medicine, in the hope that when he returns Devi will see his worth and return his love, but then a tragedy changes the fate of all three, with far-reaching consequences for the generations to come.

At a little under 600 pages this is quite a big book. The story however is a huge, sweeping, page turner of a saga. Beginning in 1878 with the birth of Devi, the narrative follows the fortunes of her, and childhood playmate Devanna and their families through to the second world war. Charting how one tiny decision or act can change the direction of a life completely. Also how so often people's choices were (and maybe still are) limited due to family pride, tradition and social convention. I can't say I liked many of the characters in the novel, some I sympathised with more than others, Mandanna's character's are deeply flawed, that does make them interesting however.

For the first 200 or 300 pages the drama comes thick and fast, bad thing after terrible tragedy, after horrible sadness, I found a bit exhausting, I often like a rather quieter read. The bang, bang, bang of the early events in this novel are a tad unrelenting. However then things settle down - a little! the pace becomes a little less frenetic. The writing is very good, and the story overall is a wonderful breathless tale, of families, secret loves, coffee plantations and the changing India. Having read this mainly over the weekend - and would say it's a great book for holiday/down time when you can gulp it down in huge draughts.