Pizza! Or Die Trying

Around the TOOL meeting mentioned in the last post, I spent my weekend trying to finish the Pizza Oven of Death in the back yard. See, we’re having all the TOOL families, kids included, over next weekend, and I sorta promised them pizza Here’s where it stands:

That bottom left one is about 1/2 dozen fire bricks from where I had to stop – ran out of refractory mortar around 4 o’clock! Ahhh! Could have finished the vault!

So, I got up at 5:30 this morning and drove to the masonry supply place where I’ve gotten the refractory mortar once before. I did this because they open at 6:00 and morning mass is at 6:30 – so, if they had any, I could grab it and still make Mass – since they close at 5:00 p.m., it’s difficult for me to get there during the week.

It’s hit or miss if they have it on hand – they did not! But you can get it via ebay from Portland, Oregon, which only takes 2-3 days UPS ground (in a 50 lbs container, you’re shipping ground – $20 versus $230 air!). So, after Mass, drove home, hit the internet, ordered another bucket – it should be here Wednesday. I sure hope so, as I need to finish the vault, add a chimney, and then let it dry for at least 1 2 days (If I can stand it!), pull out the support frame (it’s held together with screws so it should come out quick). Then smoke test it – literally – with a small fire, make sure there aren’t any leaks, that the smoke goes out the chimney.  THEN wrap it in ceramic insulation, chicken-wire the insulation down, and stucco over the top – 2 coats at least, probably 3.

So, doing the math: mortar gets here Wednesday. With UPS, that tends to be at 7:30 p.m. If so, I have an hour, an hour and a half daylight, tops, to finish the vault and the chimney – doable. Let it dry until Thursday Friday, then smoke test it. If it passes, then put on the insulation, chicken wire and the first coat of stucco. Second coat Saturday morning; third coat, if necessary, Saturday night. There’s tile and trim to work on while things dry.

Then – yikes! – test it Sunday morning?!? This is insane, right? It should be pretty dry, but the tiny, well-beaten-down sane part of my brain is saying: light a fire before you’ve let that sucker dry for a week? 600+ degrees F? You want it to crack?

If only I’d ordered enough mortar! Then I’d have been done Sunday, and the vault would have had a week to dry! The stucco would have had 4-5 days to dry! It. Could. Have. Worked!

OK – we can bake in the kitchen. We’ve got double stoves, can do 3-4 good sized pizzas at a time.

But I don’t have to be happy about it.

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The Presence and Absence of God

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I joined Teams of Our Lady, or TOOL. (Our 13 year old promptly pointed out that they should have called it Couples of Our Lady, which would have resulted in COOL, which is, well, much cooler.)  A French priest started TOOL back 1947 to support and encourage Catholic married life. Groups of 7 Catholic couples get together once a month to help reinforce our commitment to God through our marriages, A meal, some readings and prayers, review of certain assigned activities (praying as a couple, reading Scripture, that sort of thing) and just socializing.

We had our July meeting Saturday. While I am radically not a joiner, I’m so glad we joined TOOL. Some of us are retired, kids all grown; some have babes in arms; we are in the middle. Getting to hang out with sane couples committed to their marriages is such a change of pace from the rest of our lives, where many if not most of the adults we know move from tragedy to delusion and back, leaving a wake of misery in their lives, the lives of exes and kids, all the while sure that’s just the way things are, no one is to blame, the kids will get over it.

The opportunity to spend a few hours with folks who would have in the past been viewed as simply normal and healthy is a great blessing.

One of the women mentioned in passing having attended a Catholic gathering a few years back in which the composer David Haas was a featured speaker. He stated that since God is present in us, we can praise God by focusing on each other. She was one of the few people present not to respond to this assertion with a ovation.

What could possible go wrong?

This, for one thing:

Refrain: We come to share our story. We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.

1. We come as your people. We come as your own.
United with each other, love finds a home.

2. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor.
We are called to feed the hungry at our door.

3. Bread of life and cup of promise, In this meal we all are one.
In our dying and our rising, may your kingdom come.

4. You will lead and we shall follow,
you will be the breath of life; living water, we are thirsting for your light.

5. We will live and sing your praises. “Alleluia” is our song.
May we live in love and peace our whole life long.

(Ahh! 2/3rds of this post just vanished! Ratzen-fratzen technology!)

Frivolous Friday Bullet Points

  • Briefly looked over the *97* draft blog posts in my backlog. But am I finishing or discarding any of them? Noooo! I’m drafting another one! Right here, right now!
  • I’ve previously mentioned the froo-froo snacks thing we have going at my place of employment. The company supplies all kinds of free goodies in each of two nice kitchenettes – one upstairs, one down. This bounty includes sodas, bottled waters, fruit nectars, greek yogurts, single-serving cheeses (3 kinds) along with nuts, party mix, granola bars, fresh fruit and on and on. For an office with around 20 people in it.
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Seriously? Does that look like a snack food to you? Or rather more like what you’d feed wintering livestock?

We’ve recently upped the ante from this already embarrassing bounty by adding ‘healthy’ snacks from a service that supplies them in a cute cardboard box/display every couple weeks. I am weak – I tried some: they range from pretty good (e.g., coconut something-something bars – yum!) to weird (e.g., ‘jerky’ that ended up being limp sticky maple flavored bacon – huh? Bacon = good; this = weird.), as you might expect.

But I do draw the line somewhere. I have nothing against kale, per se, even if I have occasionally and with some

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“A skeet of delicious organic goodness!” 

justification referred to it as ‘a weed with a marketing department’. But

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“This puck delivers 100% of the recommended daily dose of gulibilium.”

I’m not even going to try a snack leading with ‘Blueberry-Vanilla-Kale’ in big print. I have some principles.

Also, the Gucci snack industry’s crack delivery system mutation division can’t seem to settle on terminology: are these oh-so-hip snack units bars? cookies? skeet? pucks? I’d go with ‘wads’ – ‘a delicious wad of vanilla- infused blueberries enveloped in a healthful duvet of the finest kale’ – I might try THAT, once, anyway, out of sheer cussedness.

  • My daughter and I sometimes kid about efforts to be holy, in what I hope is a light and not-asking-to-get-struck-down-by-lightening way. We once came up with ‘redemptive mockery’ in response to the use of the term redemptive suffering for every little inconvenience: one might piously help out a fellow sinner by mocking them relentlessly, for their own good! Look at all the humility and patience to be gained! In a similar vein, living out here in California, we get pretty touchy-feely at Mass. People tend to hold hands at the Our Father, sometimes forming circles of people so joined. I refered to this as ‘redemptive kindergarten’ to said daughter, and had the satisfaction of watching her spend the next few moments fighting off a giggle fit. At Mass. Bad Daddy! Bad!
  • This may have to be my default GIF from here on out:
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(BTW: trying to get my arms around the morality of ‘borrowing’ gifs – this is a snippet of a movie somebody already borrowed, then turned the lines from the movie into text. So the only people who should be concerned are the movie rights owners – who, if they’ve got an ounce of business sense, are thrilled to see people reminded of their movie a million times a day. Ya know?)       

Politics? Education? Religion? Hey, the dumpster fires have to burn themselves out eventually, right? Right? PLEASE?!?

If you want to die at home, my advice would be, don’t go to a hospital. Perhaps this will strike gentle reader as a remark overweighted on the side of the obvious; but there is some method in some of my madness. So I will begin with a careful qualification: my advice holds for Canada, and the United Kingdom, but not for all of those Natted States. (I realize there are other jurisdictions.) And even there, the impossibility of fixing “Obamacare,” without further extending its “entitlement” provisions, shows the end is coming, soon. But in Canada and UK, the future has been here for some time.

The reason, of course, is that at these higher latitudes we have so-called “single-payer” “healthcare” systems in which, as we have been reminded lately, all decision-making is concentrated in the caring-sharing State, or as I prefer to call her, Twisted Nanny. Once the paperwork is complete, and the customer has progressed from the outer to the inner waiting rooms, he is entirely in her power. He may, after reviewing her apparatus (both surgical and managerial), want to go home and die there. But she is unlikely to release him, and it will require the assistance of loyal friends and family to effect the equivalent of a prison break. (Tip: staff tend to be at their least attentive during the conventional sleeping hours.)

You see, Twisted Nanny likes to watch people die. She can become quite annoyed when others appropriate this privilege. She also likes to kill people, and has gone to considerable trouble to establish a monopoly in this regard. And given her latest powers, under legislation for “euthanasia,” she prefers to do it in her own facilities. She doesn’t make house calls, the way they do in Red China.

Have a good weekend!

 

Links. Science! The Usual.

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It is said, master and student, walk their path side by side… to share their destiny, until their paths go separate ways.

Don’t want to start out too critical of what very well might be legitimate efforts to understand the brain and how people make decisions, but The Brains Behind Behavioral Science article from a mag called Behavioral Scientist seems to offer observations about as profound as Lu Yan’s comments to Jason Tripidikas in Forbidden Kingdom referenced above, but without the intention of making a joke. For example:

Crucially, by predicting—instead of passively registering—our environment, predictive coding allows our brain to conserve cognitive resources and guide our perception and action in a fast and efficient way. But this also means that what our brain notices and attends to is heavily determined by what we already know.

Ooooh-kay. In English: we tend to look for and notice familiar things in familiar environments. Since that would be what makes a familiar environment familiar, I’m not sure we got anywhere here.

The major contention, OK as a basis of scientific exploration as long as accompanied by awareness of the limits of such a view, is that the mind (human behavior standing in, in this case) is the way it is because the brain is the way it is. As a working hypothesis, such a notion might allow something to be discovered about the relationship of thought and volition to the physical state and capacities of the brain. Not bloody likely, but maybe. Such a view does not allow one to pass metaphysical go, nor collect 200 Kantian thalers, real or otherwise.

The essay continues:

From this perspective, it is easy to see how predictive coding explains our tendency to spot confirming evidence more readily than disconfirming evidence. And because most of these predictions are performed unconsciously, we are unaware of how our prior beliefs blend with new information from the real world. When it comes to explaining cognitive quirks like the confirmation bias, the brain is basically an engine of prediction.

That word – easy – I don’t think it means what you think it means. Also, the mind and perhaps the brain boggles at the notion of demonstrating the brain’s nature as a predictive engine. Basically, thoughts as an expression of brain activity is a tricky concept, to say the least. That materialists want it to be so doesn’t make it any less tricky.

By using neuroscience to prune behavioral concepts to relevant brain substrates (! – ed.), we can rationalize the zoo of biases. The outcome would be a simpler framework, with a map of behaviors observed in different situations linked to core cognitive functions. Such simplification has already begun and could both help communication among behavioral scientists and lead fundamental and applied research in new directions.

Our suspicions are confirmed. “Rationalize a zoo of biases.” Hmmm. Note that the writer is a behavioral scientist (whatever that might be) expressing her hope that the “zoo” – the diverse, animated collection of biases that seems to be her subject matter – can be rationalized, by which she clearly means organized in a more understandable way, by use of simple principles to be discovered through neuroscience. Note that this hope is expressed as a simple fact: “we can rationalize…” not as the more sane and scientific “we just might maybe be able to rationalize…” Nope, by applying the same sort of neuroscience by which we have gained rich insight into the inner spiritual life of dead salmon, we will – not may, not might – we WILL “prune behavioral concepts to relevant brain substrates.”

She gives this example:

For instance, by studying the way brains change as we age, neuroscientists can help address one of the major challenges for the next generation of behavioral scientists: how to target behavioral interventions for the vastly different brains of people of different ages, cultures, and socioeconomic levels.

Apart from the mere woolly incoherence of the above quotation, I for one would really not want the sort of thinker who could emit such a thought doing any sort of “behavioral interventions” on me under any circumstances.

It gets worse:

To assess differences among individuals, one objective alternative is “neural indexes.” Neural indexes are brain signatures of specific behaviors. Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that we can now use neural indexes to spot behavioral biases in different populations. Many cognitive biases (like risk aversion, the endowment effect, or framing effects) have already been reduced to specific brain structures or networks, enabling neuroscientists to expand the samples to people of different ages.

Aaaaand – the reference is a link to yet another fMRI study. TL;DR much past the pretty pictures. I will give them this: in the opening paragraphs I did read, the researchers use the word ‘suggests’ to describe certain much-to-be-hoped-for conclusions. Very consistent with proper scientific restraint in the face of the massive, hulking, shadow-casting unknowns that haunt the scientific mind (even one as modest as mine) when contemplating what is being claimed.  Contrast this with the casual confidence mentioned above. I merely note that unless some breakthrough has happened in the last 2 years that I’ve completely missed – unlikely – fMRI studies make phrenology look hard-science-y by comparison. Dead salmon, and all.

So perhaps some restraint would be in order, a little shadow of doubt?

Moving on, saw this on Twitter, I think. It seemed appropo:

Yet, here’s another Twitter grab (I must figure out how one embeds these things!)

Psych diretion

See here for my basic take on the often desperate looking attempts to distract people from the ongoing fraud that is sociological and psychological ‘research’ – poorly defined questions researched via dubious protocols and never replicated are published as ‘studies’ – that then, as the writer above notes, become the basis of public policy and popular culture.

(This reminds me – there’s a blog draft in the folder where I trace a particularly egregious example of ‘nothing to see here, citizens, move along’ through its permutations over time, where a study that had very publicly been used to beat conservatives was shown to actually have found the exact opposite conclusion – and so now needed to be poo-pooed into dissipating vapors. Need to finish that one…)

Now on to cheerier news:

Here is updated the story of honeybee hive collapse, a cautionary tale about needing to understand the problem before panicking and formulating drastic solution. This is perhaps a good one to point out for my own sake, since I failed to think it through myself, and thus missed the obvious point: honeybees are livestock, animals domesticated, bred and cared for by people. ‘Wild’ honeybees, such as the hive we used to have in our front yard, are really feral – their ancestors escaped at some point from domesticated hives first brought over by English settlers 3 or 4 centuries ago.

Thus, the solution to hive collapse is not to be found, generally, in improving the natural environment, but in improving the applicable animal husbandry. And so it has happened: if hive collapse is reducing honeybee populations by up to 40%, then apiarists are going to breed more of them to make for it – because bees are raised to pollinate crops and produce honey.  As a bee farmer, I’m going to do what I can to have the right numbers of bees available for my business.

So we can pretty much stop panicking over hive collapse. Keep an eye on it, just don’t panic.

Finally, here’s a cool picture related to a recent blog post here:

While evil never sleeps, and there’s plenty wrong with the world, it serves no positive purpose to ignore real gains in the material basis for general human happiness. Real, concrete problems correctly understood can call forth real, concrete solutions that actually solve something – this chart is, I think, a monument to just such thinking. But focused problem-solving won’t bring the revolution any closer, and just might cause it to be postponed indefinitely – so it must be avoided and ridiculed at every step in the eyes of certain interests.

Saturday Update: Suburban Nirvana?

Coffee is a wonderful thing: had a couple cups at about 6:00, got some work in before 8:30 Mass, was starting to drag a bit, then had a quad-shot latte around 10:00, came home and worked until about 2:00, hit the wall and napped until 5 (good thing, too, as it was about 100F at that point) and then laid bricks until dinner. Yay, caffeine!

So, stressful week, still have a number of less than pleasant things to do, so, guy that I am, spent the day working around the house. Some trivial stuff like raked and watered the back lawn, watered the orchard I’ve put in in the front yard (front yards are useless – so mine’s got 13 fruit trees in it now, arranged in adorable planters of one kind or another) and a bit of tidying up.

(Now in Year 2 of what will most likely be a 4 year front yard project: got the trees and most of bricks along the walk in; need a wall, walk and fence along the street, a brick planter along the south side, and an expanded front porch. And a ton of clean-up. Among other things.)

But mostly worked on the brick oven. When we last left this insane project, I was trying to add about 12″ of shelf along the front, so that one would have a little space to use to get pizzas and bread in and out of the oven. Concocted an insanely complicated plan to bolt on an oak and Douglas fir butcher block shelf. Eventually realized it had too many ways to go wrong to leave much of a chance to go right. Soooo – poured a little slab using the threaded rod I’d already epoxied into the oven slab as rebar, added some cross pieces and – well, it looks OK:

Got some 6″ and 2″ square Mexican tiles to add a colorful surface, which is why it’s down 1/2″ from the oven floor.

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Some 6″ square Mexican tile for the shelf. 

After finally deciding the shelf issue, was ready to start building the oven! Got almost two courses in:

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Tomorrow, with any luck, I can get the walls up and start building the framework for the barrel vault. The ceramic insulation pads I ordered got here – it’s not enough! Need to order some more. The 11″  square Guadalupana tile arrived for the arch on the side. Need to get done Current state:

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Imagine a little Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine under the arch, with plants in front. 

It’s going to be really cute when I get it done.

And we had dinner out back in perfect California weather: low humidity, nice temperature, light breeze, no bugs.

And then got the killer sunset:

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Looking west across the street. Yay, God! Much brighter and more colorful in real life. 

All in all, a very nice day. For a change.  If I can gt a couple hours of writing in before bed, it will be darn near perfect!

July 20, 2017: 5th Anniversary of Our Son Andrew’s Death

In the early morning of July 20th, 2012, our son Andrew was struck by a car and killed while walking along a rural highway in Indiana while taking part in a Crossroads cross country pro-life walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C. May he rest in peace.

I’m writing today because of something remarkable, something I would never have even dreamt of: a friend of Andrew’s, a retired fireman who taught him as a small child in faith formation classes at Queen of All Saints parish and prayed with him on occasion in front of the local Planned Parenthood, will be filing the paperwork with the diocese to petition to get Andrew declared a Servant of God.

 

Andrew, taking a break on his Crossroads walk. 

5 years after death is the minimum required waiting period. As his father, I am far too close to make any sort of judgement at all either way. All I know is that Jim – that’s the gentleman doing the paperwork, who is a very good man – seemed to get pretty enthusiastic responses when he talked to people who knew Andrew, and that his confessor for the last few years of his life sought us out to tell us we had nothing to worry about over the state of his soul. So I ask for your prayers that God’s will be done.

Review: Astounding Frontiers Issue 1

Short & Sweet: Well worth 3 of your entertainment dollars. Fun, well-written stories and three old-school-style serials, a quick read. Grab a beer or an ice tea, your copy of Astounding Frontiers, and hit the hammock or the beach for a few enjoyable hours. Wear sunscreen.

Astounding Frontiers is a new magazine devoted to stories that astound and push frontiers. It hits the mark, although, by their nature, serials may do their astounding and pushing of frontiers over a larger time-frame than one issue. Onward:

First, we have the short stories. The Death Ride of SUNS Joyeuse by Patrick Baker is military SciFi covering a space fleet and space marines dedicated to protecting an outpost from some nasty customers intent on enslaving them. Epic and heroic battles ensue, complete with way-cool space weapons and strategy . Fun read, and it’s obvious Baker knows what he’s talking about – he’s a veteran working at the Dept of Defense, so the command structure and tactics ring true. Good story.

Next, is Lou Antonelli’s Riders of the Red Shift, a very cool sort of Western/Mystery in space story, about a space station and worm hole out in the Oort cloud near Sedna. Seems a group of Texans, after a failed rebellion, headed out with a load of decommissioned nukes – which nukes were later found useful as fuel for propulsion into the wormhole the Texans accidentally discovered.  Exploration of the galaxy takes place through this wormhole. At the time of the story, crews retrieve these nukes from the Texan’s long abandoned ship to use as fuel.  There are some mysteries that need solving…

According to Culture by Declan Finn is a space riff off the wisdom contained in a famous (legendary?) exchange between a British commander in India and a Hindu leader (whether Finn knows it or not, although I suspect he does). The Hindu explains to the Brit that it is their custom to throw live widows on the pyres of their dead husbands; the Brit explains it is his custom to hang people who murder women. If the Hindu insists on following his culture, he can hardly object when the British follow theirs.  A father who turns out to be a sort of tech/mech/ninja, has to make this point to a ruler who has purchased his kidnapped daughter.

This story has a very good opening sentence:

Neti Gwai looked over his latest batch of slaves, going from one holographic image to another, when the wall exploded.

And it hardly lets up from there. Epic battles ensue. Fun read, especially as a father of daughters.

Stopover on Monta Colony by Erin Lale is a story of empathy and mistaken identity that harkens back to a famous Star Trek episode which it would completely spoil things to name, and also a William Gibson story (and another mid-80s story in SF&F that’s sitting on the edge of memory) involving a singer who, with the aide of technology, is able to echo back the emotions of her audience.  A captain giving passage to just such a singer stops by an outpost for some repairs, and finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Can’t say much more without giving too much away – fun story.

Watson’s Demon by Sarah Salviander, is an elaborate gag, of sorts, a bit of an inside joke for physicists – and a good story. What if a superior interdimensional being decided to mess with the experimental results of what it thinks of as a hopelessly simple-minded human? What if you could really make all the energetic molecules move *here* and all the less energetic molecules move *there* just as the experimental measurements were being taken? You could drive a physicist crazy! But never underestimate a crazy physicist. Fun read.

Next up: the first installments of 3 serials – an evil marketing genius trick to hook us on future issues.

I think it’ll work.

First up is Nowither, the follow up to John C. Wright’s Dragon award winning Somewhither, the first book in the Tales of the Unwithering Realm series. Wright gives us a brief recap of Somewhither (reviewed here) to open the episode, so the reader isn’t completely lost, but I think it really helped that I’d already read it.

When we last left Our Heroes, Illya, a teenage ‘boy’ who cannot be killed, has just rescued Penny Dreadful (yep, that’s her name) an insanely beautiful and buxom young woman who is the object of Illya’s desires and happens to be a mermaid and nymph/goddess from another parallel timeline, along with 150 or so beautiful and scantily-clad slavegirls. He’s aided by Abby, an heroic young girl with The Most Tragic Backstory Ever ™, who, by virtue of her ‘two natures’ is able to circumvent the astrology of the Ur people; Ossifrage, an Air Bender/Old Testament Prophet/Gandalf hybrid (he’s really cool); and Nakasu, a Blemmyae, or headless giant who is super strong, brave and knowledgeable about the ways of the Ur. Also along is Illya’s childhood friend Foster Hidden, a gypsy/spy/warlock whose skill with the bow makes Hawkeye look like an amateur. They find themselves in some sort of switching station used by the Ur to zip around between parallel universes via golden Mobius gates. All hell breaks loose.

Got that?

If you’re tired of stories without much action, you’ll get all the action – gruesome, blood-soaked yet somehow hopeful action – you can stand.  For example, Illya gets decapitated – but it’s only a flesh wound! Slap that head back on, summon all the blood back into your veins, and you’re good to go! Excellent fun.

 

Ben Wheeler’s In the Seraglio of the Sheik of Mars is something completely different, based on the first chapter. In this installment, boy sorta meets girl, boy chased off from girl, boy gets his grandfather to arrange a marriage with girl. On Mars, in a transplanted 1,001 Nights style universe.  Not exactly what you’d expect, but it did leave me wondering where it’s going – and that’s the point of a serial, right? This first installment is more scene setting, I suppose, than actual story, but it works.

Galactic Outlaws, from Dragon Award winner Nick Cole and Jason Anaspach, is the first installment of what promises to be an epic yarn, a True Grit (maybe) in space.  The story opens with a hard-bitten captain landing his tramp hauler of a spaceship, which was falling apart when he stole it 6 years ago, on a planet that is suddenly under attack by the Republic that is supposed to be its government. As civilians flee onto the docks, he tries desperately to unload his cargo so as to gouge any passengers who want passage off the planet and away from the Republic.

Things do not go well for him.

He has one passenger: Prisma Maydoon, a girl whose family has been murdered, who only wanted a ride someplace where she might hire an assassin to get revenge. She is accompanied by KRS-88 an obedient robot she has named Crash, that spends its time pointing out how risky and insane everything she’s doing is (as is its duty). She ignores it, flees the ship and heads to a bar where the most notorious (and hunted!) hit man might be found.

Conclusion: great fun. Go buy this. Read it. Way more entertainment for the dollar than your typical hollywood movie or Big 5 novel.