Saturday, November 29, 2003

I was doing the malls on McKnight Road in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, mostly for nostalgia purposes. I end up buying most gifts online these days. Shopping malls are, sad to say, twentieth-century institutions. I'm sure yinz have seen the "Dead Malls" website, right? Northway Mall is by no means a "dead" mall, but it's been on lifesupport as long as I can remember. It's been full of empty shops for at least the last twenty years. They keep renovating it, but the renovations don't generally take. The two tent poles holding up that sagging bladder of a mall are the cheap-movies multiplex on the second floor, and a Borders on the first floor. Eh. I kind of miss the old Northway. They used to have an enormous, two-story birdcage filled with dozens of songbirds. It must have generated a lot of bird dung; it certainly produced one hell of a lot of noise. You could hear it from one end of the second floor to the other.

Northway Mall now has a temporary, third tent pole. It's a library. Northland Library, the main public library for the North Hills, is apparently in the middle of a full-building renovation. Instead of simply putting the whole library into storage for the duration, somebody decided to put all of that empty retail space to use. They've hauled a cluster of tables, desks, and associated library-ish furniture into what was once a large, no-brand toy store, along with one heck of a lot of bookshelves. The librarians on duty insisted that the mall library represented the whole of Northland's holdings, which alarmed me because Northland had been a good-sized two-story library with far more books than could possibly be fit within a single room, no matter how large. I've since been reassured that they put a good share of the less-popular holdings into storage.

I find it amusing that they're using a failing example of twentieth-century commercial technology, the enclosed shopping mall, to house a still-vibrant exemplar of the height of 18th-century intellectual technology - the public lending library. It demonstrates that the blinkers of American zoning ordinances are removable, given enough imagination. I hope to one day see the increasingly-worthless strip malls and enclosed shopping malls of America turned to new, old purposes - housing, office space, or some day, back to the land itself.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Steven Den Beste has been watching anime again, which is always news to be approached with trepidation, caution, and good humor. People give him "advice", and the results can be somewhat farcial. I don't know what to make of a guy who occasionally writes for the Wall Street Journal seriously reviewing Steel Angel Kurumi, let alone what to say when he uses it as a platform for yelling about amnesiac Japanese nostalgia.

To start out with, somebody dropped him in the deep end of "robot maid" fetish anime, and to his credit, he's noticed that it's fairly stupid wish-fulfillment. Still, a diet of Hand Maid May, Steel Angel Kurumi, and Mahoromatic is the anime equivalent of dining on Vending Machine Row - not good for you under any circumstances.

Anyways, the outrage:

It would be a period of a couple of years around the time of the Berlin Olympics, and it could also be seen in about the way these series' see 1925 Japan. No one does that for 1936 Germany, because they understand how monstrous it really was.

This belief, that mid-20s Japan was the same chaotic, oppressive hell that the late 20s and early 30s were, is a misunderstanding of the period. It isn't true. The early and mid 20s represented a "bubble economy" between the end of World War I and the social/political collapse into full-bore militarism of the late 20s. This brief period - the second half of the Taisho era in which both Steel Angel Kurumi and Sakura Wars are set - was the closest Japan ever got to European-style bourgeois prosperity. The Japanese of the period were still uniform-addled, regimented, prone to let paramilitary organizations take the place of private society, and poor by European standards - but it still was a sort of calm before the Showa storm.

I don't know if Germans ever idealize the Weimar Republic in this fashion - I don't really "do" German literature or pop-culture - but that's the parallel that should be used. Japan in 1925 is a Weimar Republic, not an early Third Reich.

To be strictly honest, when I've seen Japanese pop culture do idealized nostalgia, they're much more likely to do Meiji, rather than Taisho. Urusei Yatsura has a lot of that, especially in the OAVs.

Don't take all of this as defense of either Steel Angel Kurumi or Sakura Wars. I couldn't stand Sakura Wars. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I bought the whole first series of Steel Angel Kurumi, but in my defense it was more of a "well, that provided just enough of a margin of entertainment to justify buying one more disc at online discounted prices". I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone - it's horribly saccharine cheesecake piffle. But there are much more noxious examples of Japanese nostalgia for prewar fascism out there.

Almost every goddamn thing Leiji Matsumoto has ever been involved in, for instance. Space Battleship Yamato, in which our Japanese heroes wage heroic self-sacrificing war against space gaijin. I direct the audience towards the excellent, but queasy Arreviderchi, Yamato, in which our protagonists re-enact the February 26th Incident as part of a doomed campaign that eventually concludes with a massive, suicidal kamikaze attack. Captain Harlock, in his many incarnations, rebels against thinly disguised American occupiers, or relives his Nazi-fighter-pilot ancestor's last flight, or just generally goes on in the sort of self-dramatizing Volk-hero defiance of last-man accommodation that is so central to the spirit of fascist anti-rationalism. More than one of the later Harlock projects are remakes of Wagner Ring-cycle mythology, for the love of Nietzsche! You'll get yet more of the same from the three-part OAV adaptation of The Cockpit which, among other things, features another Nazi pilot who's too noble to allow the dropping of a German nuclear bomb, preferring to go out in a blaze of glory after proving that German fascists are more moral than American butchers.

Don't get me wrong. I *like* Matsumoto's stuff, or at least some of it. The first Captain Harlock TV series is twenty-five years old, and it's still a good show. Arreviderchi, Yamato is an excellent movie. The Cockpit OAVs are brilliant. But it's hard to get away from the obvious, which is that Matsumoto is, at heart, a fascist, and he retails a type of anti-rationalist nostalgia. It isn't as if he's the only creative in anime with a dodgy political point of view. Otomo(Akira) and Mamoru Oshii(Patlabor) are both one-time street-fighting New Leftists. Miyazaki was a doctrinaire card-carrying Communist who was one of the leaders of an internal revolt at Toei in the mid-60s that resulted in a two-year occupation of that animation studio. (The eventual result was the grand, but deeply flawed Horus: Prince of the Sun.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I drove to Pittsburgh this morning, on the understanding that my parents wanted me home a day before Thanksgiving, for what reason, I hadn't really bothered to ask. I arrived about 1:30 PM, to find the front door open and no-one but a dozing, elderly shih-tzu on the premises. So, I settled back, expecting whomever had need of me this day before the season, to show up from whatever errand they were on, list of familial assignments in hand. You know, the usual.

Three hours later, I hear a car pull up to the garage. Walking over to the garage, I managed to scare the crap out of my dad, who was getting out of his SUV, and apparently not expecting anyone to greet him. I noted sourly that if he's going to leave the front door unlocked in a major metropolitan area like Pittsburgh, he's lucky it hasn't happened to him more often than it has. I asked him why I had been summoned. He was damned if he knew. So, we waited.

A half-hour later, mom shows up as I was walking over to move my car from in front of the neighbor's garage. She saw me pulling the car around, and assumed that I had just arrived. I asked *her* why I was there, and she said something to the effect of "you're the one who drove here, wouldn't you know?"

After some back-and-forth, we established, finally, that her busybodiesque inquiry of how many days of vacation I had left (under the mistaken impression that my company operates on a yearly vacation use-em-or-lose-em plan, instead of the continual personal-days rollover we actually use), had *not* been intended as subtle instruction to extend my Thanksgiving Day visit to the better part of a week, but rather just the usual casual meddling. So, I find myself marking time in Pittsburgh, instead of, you know, getting work done in State College.

Ah, family. The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dan Drezner hosted a debate (here, here , here, here, and here) a few weeks back about the "imminent threat" kefluffle. The "they implied an imminent threat" guy whipped out a thesaurus to "show" that the administration said "imminent" via synonyms - looming, etc. I was reading a new military Iraq blog, when I came across this demonstration of the dangers of relying on thesauruses for serious rhetorical work - a thesaurus containing 42 synonyms for "guerilla", none of which actually retaining the original meaning of "nonconventional warrior, or insurgent". Drezner gave the palm to Thesaurus Boy; I still say he was rewarding the cleverest manufacturer of straw men.

Iraq Now is an interesting blog (via ye olde Instapundit)- he sounds like either a company commanding officer, or a battalion officer of some sort. I'm still reading through his backentries.

Update: our military blogger comments on the Army Times "they're screwing our boys!" article that Fred Ramsey pointed out to me a while back, without having the link handy. He also points out a Stars and Stripes article spinning the same story the opposite way, which is how I had heard it, not being a regular reader of the Army Times. Looks like the Army Times link is dead - so much for media permalinks, what?

Looks like he's a battalion XO.
I vaguely knew that Nelson Ascher wrote about poetry in Portuguese; I didn't know he was a published poet himself. He's posted some translations of his work on Europundits. Normally, I don't have much use for translated poetry. Native language is so central and primary an element of a poem that I have some difficulty regarding a translation as anything other than an adaptation - not to be considered the thing in itself any more than the film made of a book ought to be confused for the novel itself.

But there are exceptions to this vague rule. Some translators take the original work as inspiration for their own flights of fancy. Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is the model and exemplar of this derivative art. I don't read Persian - I merely rely on the informed opinion of those that do - but it is my understanding that the third-rate poetry of 'Umar Khayyam has only a passing resemblance to Fitzgerald's epochal editions. This is a *good thing*.

The above translations of Ascher's poems, on the other hand, have been selected by the writer himself, and thus, endorsed. I find myself ambiguous on the subject.

Oh, well, leaving all pedantic objections aside, there's a lot of excellent imagery in the selections - and imagery is, perhaps, the one element of poetics that is least reliant on the tricks of language. The bitter humor also comes across without linguistic confusion.

I especially liked "the Statue of Wallenberg".
The sky over the office was blue, red and white, and contrails covered the heavens like a child's cross-hatched notion of infinity, stretching out to some poorly defined vanishing point.

For all my life I lived under a full sky, a sky full of man. The visual affirmation of man's continued refusal to admit that he was just another animal - the sign that he could re-make the world entire in a reflected image of himself, his inner imaginings. The contrails were our mark on the world itself.

Then the disasters came, and the skies emptied out, and remained empty. Late afternoon came, and the commerce of humanity was - gone. We were too far out from the major cities for the combat air patrols to quarter our skies in protection of the remaining buildings, the communication centres, the vital hubs. There was just - nothing.

And the skies were terribly, terribly blue, and empty, and it was as if man was already gone, and if we were not quite extinct, it was as if our dreams had died before us. The skies were empty.

Then, at last, they resumed flights, and there were new fears, and you couldn't help but twitch whenever a plane appeared overhead, in irrational fear that it might fall, but these were little fears, and lesser worries. The skies had men in them again; the void was full.

The great blue abyss was divided, by white contrails stretching off towards forever.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Iaa. I just ordered a couple of books (Walter Jon William's the Sundering and Devine's Scotland's Empire 1600-1815) from Amazon UK, and thought "35 pounds isn't that much". That'll teach me not to pay attention to exchange rates. 35 pounds is a little under $60 at today's rates.

Oops. It seems as if ANSWER is laundering its donations through a 501(c)3, which are not supposed to be political. How the hell did that get by the watchdogs? They claim to be "educating" people about peace activism. Right. I'm going to start a 501(c)3 dedicated to "educating" the public about the wonders of democracy by funding the campaigns of pro-war Democratic candidates. I'm sure it'll slip in under whatever loophole the People's Rights Fund thinks is covering their politized asses.

Via Professor Bainbridge.
Erin O'Connor passes along an interesting anecdote in which a "Post-Christian" English professor refuses to address students' questions about the theology in Milton on the grounds that "she didn't think a discussion of Christianity was important to an understanding of Milton". You can't make this stuff up, people.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Book meme:
The rules: Take someone else's list of authors. Remove any you don't have on your shelves. Add replacements, keeping the total number at ten.

Ilaria's list:

Jane Austen
Connie Willis
Michael Ondaatje
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull
Tanya Huff
Diana Kappel-Smith
Damon Runyan
Christina Quinn
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

My list:

Jane Austen
Connie Willis
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull
Tanya Huff
Glen Cook
George R.R. Martin
Walter Mosley
Sharyn McCrumb
Neal Stephenson
A nasty misunderstanding based on an accidental kanji/mahwa pun in a skit performance by some Japanese students in a university in Xian resulted in a large and violent anti-Japanese riot in that city. Here's a first-person account of what happened. As far as I can tell, a stupid "we love China" skit by the Japanese students (they were there learning Chinese in some sort of exchange program, it seems) resulted in an accidental pun that jingoistic local students took as disparaging. I'd hope that this sort of thing would stand as a lesson for those folks who think that American nationalism or American racism is somehow unique or exceptional.

Oops. Via Gweilo's Winds of Change China Wrapup.
David Carr of Samizdata infiltrated the London protests to see what happened, and was quite disappointed to find a subdued, mechanical march, that sounded more like a slog with patchouli. Good piece - has a bit of that P.J. O'Rourke flair.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The furor over Nick Confessore's hitjob on Tech Central Station led me to read Arnold Kling's TCS article on the Austrian School of free-market economics. I'm passingly familiar with the Chicago School - I don't think you can get through a decent college education in the states without having encountered it at least once - but the Austrian School is confusing and more than a little gnomic. Descriptions of the Austrian School seem to revolve around the idea that central banks poison the knowledge-base of investors and businesspeople by creating false ideas of the available pool of capital - I get that much. It's when they start in on all of these labored analogies about time preferences and long-term projects versus short-term projects that I tend to lose the train of their argument in a crowded thicket of metaphor and simile.

I went looking for comparisons of the two schools, when I came across this article by an Austrian which makes a great, if somewhat tangential, argument about why high-level economics is such a doubtful science. He makes the point that the development of economic theories resembles the behavior of fads more than it does scientific paradigms or the free-market evolutionism preferred by mainstream triumphalists. A dominant theory tends to glide in stasis until catastrophic error causes a spasm of reconsideration, whereupon a replacement theory is adopted, until the next catastrophic error. I suspect the author is underplaying the degree of hypothesis-testing that goes on during periods of triumphal stasis - young economists do have a slight incentive to tear down the existing paradigm in order to get noticed. But it's this worry, the danger of fads, that makes me suspicious of the "soft" sciences, and their claims to rigour.

It is this fear that "there can ... be no presumption whatever in economics that later thought is better than earlier" that makes me leery of the more religiously progressive supply-siders. If economics, the hardest of "soft" sciences, is so unstable and fickle, how much more so can the political "science" be? Nothing alarms me more than this fear of quicksands beneath the feet of the evangelical philosophers of Democracy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Roger Simon linked to a Free Republic reproduction of a Herber Meyer speech calling for a revival of "Team B", although Meyer didn't specifically refer to it by that name. I found out that what he was talking about was the "Team B" I've heard so maligned by googling his name and coming up with this article on the work "Team B" did uncovering Soviet economic/financial lies. According to that article, systemic Soviet misrepresentation of economic data meant that the conventional CIA mistakenly believed that the Warsaw Pact economies were twice as large as they actually were.

Now, I don't actually know that much about "Team B". It turns out that there were several "Team B"s. This article describes the original "Team B", created as part of a creative wargaming-analysis project under Bush the Senior in 1976. The original "Team B" actually came to the exact opposite conclusion of Herber Meyer's "Team B" - they wildly over-estimated the Soviet capacity for military expansion and upkeep.

Safire has a column from a few years back where he refers to a Rumsfeld "Team B" which was pushing the theory that rogue states like Iran were capable of making a ballistic missile threat on the continental US within five years of project inception. Feith's Office of Strategic Planning has been called a new "Team B".

Well, this all is a nice partisan tangle. You hear and see great gobs of stuff about the earlier "Team B" which fell so thoroughly on its face.
I'm reading the Education of Henry Adams online. One of the more brilliant aspects of the modern internet is it's bottomless potential for self-impression and boundless pretension. You can go chasing pornographic doujinshi, or you can read the self-involved memoirs of Boston's most pompous son. Or, you can do both at the same time, while puttering around doing some actual work.

The BBC has got a reporters' group blog up about the Bush visit to England, along the same lines as the blog they had running last spring during the war. It's somewhat amusing, because from all accounts the protests are looking like a massive wet squib.

The Iain Murray link via Instapundit.
Today's the 140th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
Balticon sent me a flyer the other week; it seems Bujold will be the GoH. This is stranger than it would appear on first blush: I've never really attended a Balticon. I have no idea how I got on their mailing list. I used to do Philcon, back in college. I usually didn't have time to do conventions in the spring, and Balticon was PSSFS's (Penn State Science Fiction Society, for those random readers who aren't alumni) spring con. Philcon was the fall convention, and I usually was flush and at loose ends in the fall.

The one time I did show up at Balticon, it was to help run an anime video room, as part of a publicity/staffing exchange between Otakon and Balticon. This was the year that PSSFS alumni used Balticon as a reunion, the year that John Nadzam got horribly trashed on three pangalactic gargle blasters and earned his nickname "John the Volcano". Maybe I actually bought a membership. I don't remember at this point... No, I must have. I remember sitting on a panel.

Even though Bujold is one of my favorite authors, this is less of a draw than you might think. I'm not a big proponent of fans and authors mixing; I've found that such things invariably come to grief. I prefer to let authors produce books, and let me pay for them. Nice, commercial, distant. I've always felt that conventions should be gatherings of fans, and should concentrate on fannish activity. Discussion panels with "big fans" rather than "interview" panels, or press conferences without the name. Since I don't have a history of attending Balticon, this means that I don't have a lot of social contacts within the Balticon collective. What contacts I do have would be because of staff overlaps between Balticon and Otakon, which, after all, are held in the same metropolitan area.

Eh, call it a big "maybe". Maybe if I can find some PSSFSers who are going. Bill Johnston lives down that way these days...
The Carnival of the Vanities is at Peaktalk this week. There's an idiot sounding off about anime; Ilyka Damen reminds me why I can't stand protest activists; finally, Angelweave almost succeeds in talking me into reading Fast Food Nation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

You know, when I think of countries that specialize in the mercenary business, I usually think of cold, barren, mountainous nations - countries with little prospects, where the terrain actively encourages its sons and daughters to find their armed fortunes in foreign lands. The Scots of French military tradition. The Swiss Guards of the Vatican. The Norwegians and Danes of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine days of Constantinople. Even the Kurds of the latter days of the Baghdad Caliphate.

So when did sunny, tropical, lush Fiji become this era's best-known exporter of mercenary troops? Perhaps Fiji is more mountainous and barren that I had always assumed. A check of the CIA Factbook definitely seems to indicate that it is, indeed, mountainous, and an arable land percentage under 11% ranks it below Afghanistan and Iran, and about equal with traditional-mercenary-exporters Switzerland and Scotland.

Huh. The things you think that just ain't so.
Faith Full

I believe in karma
I believe in dharma
I believe in life.
I believe in destiny
I believe in fate
I take all ideas to wife.

I believe in the life everlasting
I believe in the transience of life.
I believe in angular momentum
And the dervish in flight.

I believe in one God
I believe in endless saints
I believe in trinities
Gods, Norns and Fates.

I believe in Dao All-Path
I believe in one true faith
I believe in the Resurrection
I believe in the Ummah,
Nation of faith.

I hold covenant in an apostolic Church
I bathe in the Inner Light
I sing the tongues Pentacostal
I glory in the life of the gospel

I believe in all good works
I accept only a doctrine of prayer
I cherish the dogmas of my Church
I hold only to the scriptural word.

I believe in all gods
I believe in the endless void
I fear the god of my fathers
I kneel in a foreigner's shrine.

I believe in the Belief.
I believe in all believing
I believe in a belief in all things,
Believing belief will set me free.


Monday, November 17, 2003

I haven't been sure what to think of this weekend's news. There's a lot of back-and-forth in Iraq, but overall the security situation seems more under control than it did last week. Stryker's Iraq Blog is full of reports of captures by both Coalition troops and Iraqi Police, even, notably, one by mosque police in Najaf.

On the other side of the ledger, we have this announcement about an acceleration of transfer of power. It's highly alarming on the initial face of the announcement, but if you dig deeper, they're talking about implementing an American-written interim constitution for the period while they're drafting a proper constitution. This seems to be a definite improvement on the majority-rule constitutional assembly the Shi'ites were pushing. I don't know, I can't tell if it's a good or not.

Yeah, not the most riveting of posts, eh? Things are quiet in Bellefonte. The grey iron skies of November have descended upon us. If the weather holds true to form, it'll be like this for weeks of sog and chill. Our very own yearly Slough of Despond. I think I prefer snow, high winds, and the dramas of bittercold winter to this half-light half-life half-world waiting.

I bought & read Prachett's new novel, Monstrous Regiment. I don't know why, but I assumed that it *wasn't* a Discworld novel, and was somewhat disappointed when it turned out to be one of that scruffy crew. I don't really hold anything against the Discworld novels, but I think I've read *enough* of them, and I'm ready for something else. Oh, well. At least the novel contained a very minimum of Sam sodding Vimes, who is my very least favorite of Pratchett protagonists.

I finished watching Orguss II. I had been waiting more than nine years to finish that one - ever since Dave Fleming showed up at Otakon 1994 with two episodes he had fan-subtitled, and asked us to wedge into the schedule. Manga Entertainment bought the license a good many years ago, not more than a year or two after that showing, if I'm not mistaken. Sadly, Mangle wasn't big on the subtitled releases, and I could only endure those same two episodes in the dubbed version before giving up on the enterprise.

Orguss II was a six-episode OAV series from the brief golden age of OAVs, from roughly 1986 to 1993. These were the years that saw both money and talent pour into the market, floating on the very last gushes of the bubble-economy. Afterwards, what was left of the money went into videogames. The talent either followed the money, went into TV, or got a life. But for that brief period, interesting artists collaborated on some damn interesting shows.

Orguss II isn't exactly a success. It's dragged down by the license it's tied to - a mid-Eighties "real robot" TV series of middling quality and little interest. When the story eventually rolls around to the alleged point of the show, things get both weird and dopy. But the setup, the stuff that goes on before the plot shuffles out onto stage - that stuff is fun. People worry about money; the good guys are corrupt, cynical, and opportunistic; violence has a graphic and sudden cost. Orguss II's creators had a very pulp, moralistic sensibility. I have a deep respect for what they do around the edges of the story.

It would have done better as one of those 13-episode TV series they make these days out of this sort of story. The six-episode OAV format crimps the story, forces it into a rattling haste that doesn't help matters. On the other hand, most modern 13-episoders are not nearly as worldly-wise or clever as this one was. Perhaps there's something about the TV development process that sucks all the life out of the new shows. Or maybe it's just that the talent is still stuck in videogames.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Morocco has liberalized its laws for women. Women are no longer considered the lifelong chattels of their male relatives, they can sue for divorce, they have joint ownership of property within marriage, and their husbands can no longer divorce them by denouncement. That's actually pretty impressive. I'd heard that Morocco was on the leading edge of liberalization in the Arab world; I hadn't been sure how seriously to take that. If you compare this with Jordan's recent refusal to ban honor killings, Morocco really is a shining light in the region.
The political end of the New Blog Showcase is notably lacking in linkable material this week. I went back and forth over the filibustering sleepover post. It's clearly the only thing of interest on that particular blog, and it isn't even particularly funny. But at least he's trying. That's worth a link.

The blissfully non-political end of the Showcase has some more palatable entries. Ruminations in Korea has an ugly site design, but his entries seem to have some depth to them: this cranky post on Korea's version of metrosexuality is interesting. He seems as irked by the phrase (I'm presuming it's translated?) "flower Adonis" as I am by, well, "metrosexual". And how could you hate a post about how Korean mothers threaten to feed their disobedient children to fat white men when they don't know those men understand Korean?

And, and and... er, I thought there'd be more here? There are two other entries, but they're both uninteresting. What the hell, people! One koreablog? That's it? This sucks.

I blame the League of Liberals. May bees pee upon them.
Adam Sullivan quotes a pseudonymous someone in the course of an argument about neocons. It starts off with an aside totally irrelevant to the main point; it is this introduction, and not the general point (to which I am sympathetic if uninterested) which pisses me off:

Agnosticism is intellectual cowardice...

Cowardice. This suggests that unsupported belief is an act of courage - that to believe in something before the evidence is in is bravery. This is bravery as motion - faith in the howling roar of the charge. It's a very Martial definition of faith - forward motion, drive, commitment. Also foolhardiness, rashness, and blind rage. I prefer definitions of courage over bravery. Bravery charges the guns. Courage chooses its ground, and holds it. Courage stands its ground against the charge.

Some sing a song of bravery
Of faith in the rout
Of belief in the battle,
And courage against doubt.

"Cowards!" cry the believers
Against a withholding crew.
Believe in the charge!
Bear arms against reavers!
Believe in the act!
Step out on a field of Mars
Carry our banner's God
Forth 'gainst nonbelievers!

But this is all nonsense.
And muddy-minded rot.

Faith is not courage,
Faith is fear.
Faith is a Godly terror
Fearful and trembling
Or a fear of no god -
An existential terror
That "hideous schizophrenia",
Nietzsche's abyss.

Pascal's bet,
A gambler's fear -
That belief that belief
Is a safer bet,
That the penalty for disbelief in
A God-wrought world
So infinitely worse
Than paltry losses lost
Believing in
A chance-made life;
This those intellects
Will calculate to believe,
Despite all evidence,
Despite all lack of evidence,
Despite the balance, for and against.

Cry you a battle?

Here they come screaming
Death's own avalanche
The horde in a howling rage.
Our backs we have turned to the great dividing depth,
Infinite dark, deep and vast
Abyssal space without
Any bottom that our weak eyes have sought.

The charge sweeps the field like the inevitable sweep
Of a clock-arm driven by God's steel springs
And each clock-tick strikes like the shattering of swords.

The rash rush forth to meet death on
Death's own ground;
The weak have broken and run, are plunging
Even now
Into their bottomless depths.

Come, agnostic souls, here hold your ground!
Here we shall wait,
Await this charge of terror in doubt!
Standing aligned on our own,
First snow-fall of the season. Just enough to form ice where the wind blows. Just enough to remind you that mother nature hates you and all of your works. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Babel On! passes along the rumor of a leaflet from the "Iraqi Resistance" which orders surrendering "Invader troops" to lay down their arms, kneel 50 meters from their weapons, etc. In other words, a re-addressed surrender leaflet from the beginning of the war. I doubt it's from any actual guerilla groups. The only insurgent I've ever heard of with a sense of humor was Sub-Commandant Marcos, and it's hard to tell if he was kidding or just nuts.
Sarah Fitz-Claridge has a post that's essentially a transcript of a speech she gave, on the subject of the right-wing libertarian weakness for private-sphere authoritarianism. That is, the endorsement of any abomination, so long as it is not practiced by the state. I'm mostly sympathetic, but she badly muddies her message by throwing the notion of "children's rights" into the discussion. You can agree with her points against tyranny-by-contract, while not buying into her insistence that children have the same set of rights as adults. I am basically hostile to the notion that children possess full agency. They aren't chattel, but there's a hell of a distance between chattel and citizenry. Her speech conflates adults and children, and proceeds on the assumption that women's agency and children's agency are equal and linked concepts.

Childhood is a transitive condition, a phase through which an entity passes on the way to adulthood. Ethnicity and gender are essential conditions which characterize an entity throughout its existence. They're incommensurate, and to treat them as if they are commensurable is a mistake of the first order.

Via this week's Carnival.
OK, this had me tearing up a bit. A military funeral procession done right.

Via this week's Carnival.
The Carnival of the Vanities is back in town. One of these days I'm going to simultaneously possess a decent, recent post and the drive to actually submit it to whoever is hosting it that week. On that same hypothetical day, I shall also wash my car, learn Arabic, solve world hunger, and clean my windows. The one good thing about indolence is that it makes everything equally possible. Or improbable.

Harvey of Bad Money has an excellent post on the value of artificial status, comparing the League of Liberals' linkwhoring stats-manipulation games with the negative effects of affirmative action. I think he overstretches the point by invoking "status versus power", in that I don't think that true status is necessarily a metric of power, soft or otherwise.
Now this is more like it. Assholes try to attack a hospital in Fallujah, and the 82nd Airborne blows them to hell. Good job, Airborne!

Via this morning's Winds of Change Iraq roundup.
This is not impressing me. Taking the day's police blogger sweepings and calling it "Operation Iron Hammer" is so goddamn transparent that it didn't even fool me, and I want to believe that they're doing something, that they're getting somewhere.

Look, these sorts of things are a start. But they ought to be happening every goddamn night, a dozen times a night. That's how you "out-G the Gs". Not by spasming every couple weeks and getting your PR officers to call it "Operation Make Work" or some damn fool thing. Now, I'm choosing to believe that they're just playing up what they've been doing all along. I better not be wrong, because if they're only doing this kind of proactive ambushing when somebody at HQ actually sits down and lays out an "operation", we're screwed. This shit should be happening nightly on the battalion level. If it isn't, fuck me, we're dead.

Via The Command Post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

101-280 takes feng shui ("What does feng shui mean?" "It means that people will believe anything") a little too seriously.
Radar studies of permanently shadowed craters on the lunar poles seem to militate against the lunar ice hypothesis that had previously been advanced by the detection of hydrogen outgassing by the Lunar Prospector. The results seem to be less authoritative than some reports indicate, but it's a definite negative data-point. Since no country is currently plotting a colonization effort, China's JFK-era campaign notwithstanding, I have to say that handwringing over setbacks to hypothetical lunar colonies is somewhat nonsensical.
Dan Drezner points out signs that the Bush administration is playing deep defense on the WTO defeat on steel tariffs, and is thinking about pulling back on projected wood tariff reductions. I have a very bad feeling about the current state of trade liberalization. The Bush administration has been categorically worse on the subject than the Clinton administration was, and all the Democratic contenders are busy making Bush look like a free-trader in comparison. The last time we had a full-scale retreat on global trade, it ended in global depression and global fucking war. I'm not a doctrinaire believer in the Peace of Dives, but lord knows trade is better than no trade, and poverty breeds war like rotting meat breeds maggots - by indirect encouragement.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Flying Yangban has a pictorial entry on a recent labor riot in South Korea. He points out that there is nothing spontaneous about a Korean riot, and compares them to "Aztec flower wars" for their ritualized, scripted precision. Still, those are real Molotov cocktails they're flinging at the cops, and big honking iron bars they're beating each other with. I don't know that I'll ever really understand Korea. I can get Italy and its parade-strikes: it's the lazy man's labor demonstration. I'm a lazy man - I can get behind taking a half-day vacation to go strolling through town with the rest of the union, making a little noise. I can't quite picture why I would want to go charging tear-gas-tainted-water cannon tanks with no more protection than a surgical mask and some work gloves.

Via the Marmot Hole's Eyes on Korea wrapup at Winds of Change.
Clay Shirky describes the Semantic Web in the course of eviscerating the entire concept. I had sort-of-heard of this idea, but I hadn't really paid any attention, because it showed all the signs of a Wired Special. Wired Specials are flack-friendly "revolutionary concepts" which can only be described in marketing jargon, which don't relate to any actual pre-existing problem or problems, and seem to exist mostly as a totem of enthusiasm and/or fervor. "Push" technology was the classic Wired Special.

As far as I can tell from Shirky's article, the Semantic Web is a data-mining project based on the assumption that you can extract new ideas from syllogistic evaluation of the existing web. I have to wonder if a failure of the Semantic Web suggests by extension the failure of data mining in general? Well, no. What is our HighQ project but a data-mining system for agricultural data? Perhaps it was the abstract scale of the Semantic Web that puts the knife in. But most data-mining systems are inductive in nature - summary results form new hypotheses, and queries are made to product new, more specialized results. Repeat next year to test the work done under the hypotheses of this year. Syllogistic reasoning is a deductive approach to an essentially inductive task.

Via Jeff Jarvis.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Right after Jessica reminded me of her love for the sillier aspects of opera, I came across a blogger's rant against the operatic depredations of one Calixto Bieito, vulgarian buffoon. I honestly can't tell if Oliver was pissed at Bieito because of his vulgarity, his condescension, or his apparently-inept staging.

But don't you love that name? "Calixto Bieito". It's a perfect name for an art-clown. I've got this mental image of a five-hundred-pound beatnik in a black beret, speaking in an inpenetrable, Dieter-esque mis-mash of German and Italian.

Hobgoblin of Mediocre Minds Dept.

Armed Liberal delivers an excellent sermon on patriotism in the American context. I, myself, was ranting against the dangers of civic religion just last week. Oh, well. Foolish consistencies and all that. Go read it. Especially if you think that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" - he makes the excellent point that this position is roughly analogous to the notion that child abuse is the highest expression of parental love.

Something There is That Doesn't Love a Wall

They're building a new county prison on the high valley floor, along the new interstate. I know the reasons and the finances and the necessities, but there's something that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down, and I can't be happy about our new public possession. This is a rural county turned, by slow starts and glacial shifts, suburban or even urban. The old "prison" isn't more than a little pen - a tiny one-story lockup on the hill behind the courthouse, as modest and anonymous as the enclosed concrete reservoir, the next hill over. It long since has ceased to be useful for the purposes that the county would put it to. They've been sending the prisoners to do hard time at Rockview, with the hard prisoners of the rest of this hard state. My inner miser agrees with my inner liberal that it's expense piled on disproportion and injustice. We need this new county prison. And yet I cannot celebrate the raising of walls.

Rockview is a strange fact, a compound of misery, deprivation and state-slavery in the heart of a beautiful, achingly wonderful valley. It once was an agrarian experiment in rehabilitation. The prisoners would grow their own crops, feed themselves, find redemption in hard work under the soft glare of a gentle northern sun. I don't know the history of how that idealism fell by the wayside, but all that's left of the prisoner-farmers of Rockview are a few orchard-tenders and the brown-uniformed work gangs that cut the warden's grass, clear rocks from fields, and maintain the facilities. The guards stand watch on horse-back, shotgun in hand, over the mostly-black work-gangs. It's hard to forget the prices we pay for our law and order with something like that in the heart of the valley.

The new prison is on Rockview land, or it was once. I know I've seen the work-gangs on that plot, clearing rocks from what was, at the time, cropland. It's sometimes a bit difficult to identify where the prison lands leave off and the neighboring farms take up. The local farmers lease the fields that the prisoners once worked, and sometimes the only way you can spot the difference is by seeing which fields have work details clearing the inevitable limestone and dolemite rubble turned up by a recent tilling. Since the land was taken by eminent domain from the same families that now lease them back for the farming of it, I suppose it all works round in the end.

The county jail is going to be right on Benner Pike, at the corner of Rishel Hill Road. Rishel Hill was a nice country-lane, working its way up from the Axemann road, over Logan Run and the rail tracks, between a gas tank farm and an auto wrecking yard on the left and an ancient, dying stone wall on the left. Once you climb out of the ravine, you come into private farmland, rotating soybeans and corn from one side of the road to the other on alternating years. The family on that road has young children - you could occasionally see a schoolbus turning around in their narrow yard between the barn and the house, picking the kids up. I wonder what it will be like for those kids when the time comes and their nearest neighbors are prison guards and felons. For several years I took Rishel Hill to work. It was more calming and easy-going than the hectic stress of Benner Pike in the morning. I've stopped doing so, in avoidance of the construction mess. I doubt I'll be going back once they're done. Good fences may make good neighbors, but I can't celebrate the building of walls.
Some lunatic actually created tomacco. The world is not only weirder than you think, it's weirder than you can possibly imagine. I used tomacco as an ur-crop for at least one set of hypothetical documentation on HighQ, the agricultural database that I do customer and technical support for. I seem to remember it was a demonstration of how to add a new crop and a new fertilizer to the system - in the hypothetical case, tomacco and plutonium fertilizer. The new tomacco hybrid was apparently created without benefit of poisonously radioactive fertilizers, much to my disappointment.

Via Dave Menendez's Zedneweb.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Some guy just pulled up in our office parking lot with a really big truck and came in to see if anyone wanted to buy furniture. At first I thought he was a hijacker who missed his mob connection and was trying to recoup his expenses, but someone else in the office informs me that there's this factory down in North Carolina that sends truckers out to try and unload dirt-cheap furniture on consignment. It's a damn weird world, that's for sure.
I have a confession to make. It's not something I'm really proud of, but I've come to realize that it is true, and better to be truthful and lame than dissemble and play at sophistication.

I love mecha anime. I can and do like other genres, depending on the breaks and the whys and the wherefores and little things like writing and style. But mecha gets a pass in the absence of other factors. This is the only explanation as to why mecha shows dominate my list of current "let's watch this next!" anime. People were complaining about the deluge of "galfelch" or "harem" or "cute-girl h-game" shows this summer, and I could sort of see their point. There was a lot of lame out there with big sparkly eyes and a "yamato nadeshiko" attitude. This season, it's "there's too many obscure, excessively serious shows playing", and I can see that, too. Drear is the new "fun" this season, darling!

There are three anime that I look forward too, these days, and they're all mecha in one sense or another. Yes, I know I stretch the definition beyond all sense or recognition, but leave me my theories. They keep me warm at night, in the absence of new translated episodes of Overman King Gainer.

Sumeba Miyako no Cosmos-sou Suttoko Taisen Dokkoida, aka Dokkoida or, more properly, Cosmos-sou, starts out as a slightly doofy recession-economy-part-time-job parody of Ultraman, but quickly turns into a wacky apartment-community comedy. An alien federation decides to use Tokyo as a testing-grounds for its police-equipment mecha trials. Two rival corporations hire locals to pilot the suits against several released intergalactic felons, dumped in Tokyo and told to go cause trouble. The aliens, being intensely cheap and small-minded, house everybody in the same rundown apartment complex, while telling everybody to maintain secret identities. I don't know why I like Cosmos-sou - it's silly, it's dumb, it's as cliched as you can get without spontaneous combustion. I'm guessing it's the mecha.

The first season of Full Metal Panic drove me right up a fucking wall. Over it, across the garden, through the woods, and onto the interstate to play in traffic. It was one of those stories where a sixteen-year-old mecha pilot had enough time in his brief life to fight his way through insurgencies in Afghanistan, Cambodia, get trained as a mecha pilot, and develop a personality like R. Lee Ermey on antipsychotic medication. Essentially unserious, in other words. On the other hand, we're expected to take this world dead seriously, with pseudo-realistic mecha combat in a Special-Forces, detailed, snake-eating sense. Except when we're running around a Japanese high school, following our protagonist following his fixation-object, a girl who's supposed to be protected from the shadowy evil what-the-hell-ever which threatens her. The first season was a eight-car pileup in thick fog the day before Thanksgiving. Bad. Don't watch it. I warned you.

The second season, called for reasons that will eventually become evident, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, is infinitely better. Why? They gave up trying to get us to take all this crap seriously. The international politics and Special Forces heroics have all been dropped, as if they'd never happened. Our hero continues to protect the heroine, but there's no real reason to do so. It's just something he does because he's been told to, and he's a humorless, obsessive, lovable, dutiful nutjob. The big detailed pseudo-realistic military mecha with invisibility-cloaks have gone bye-bye, and have been replaced with a massively modified mascot-suit stolen from a local amusement park. "Bonta-chan" is a paramilitary-grade assault-suit, but it still looks like a seven-foot-tall cartoon rodent. It's become the silliest of fish-out-of-water farces, and thus has improved ten-fold over the previous attempt.

The third series is Shinkon Gattai Godannar, an old-fashioned Go-Nagaiish giant-robots against aliens with the professor running her super-scientific military base in support type of show. None of it is really new or unique - it really does look like the old 70s shows, give or take a few overly-endowed bridge bunnies. The "twist" is that our hero and heroine are getting married at the beginning of the series, and the metastory is essentially a "newlyweds getting to know one another" affair. The hero's mecha is named "Godannar" ("Godhubby"), the heroine's, Okusaer ("Mechawife"). It's less silly than I expected, given the premise. They've been playing it fairly straight so far - there's been no comic-relief characters, no slapstick comedy, no over-the-top villains. The character dynamics remind me of a Georgette Heyer novel - A Civil Contract or Friday's Child.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I've been busy today, alternatively working and laughing my ass off over Frank J.'s In My World archive. It's sort of like That's My Bush, except funny. I especially like the Rumsfeld Strangler, and Condi Rice's inexplicable compulsion to nuke Finland.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Susie of Practical Penumbra provides a much-needed dose of really, really bad poetry. "Burple"?

Oh! dark conspiracies wild and wicked
That, breathing still air of vilest slander
Covented within a crowded thicket
Agreed then to jealousies pander!

See each calumnar take their turn
About the well-banked high-blazed fires
Tend their vanities - accolades to earn
To drag a Reynolds through dank mires.

Now, before our ranked, terrible prose
A marching host, in reprehensible verse!
Though their work plums the bottomless lows
In response call forth efforts infinitely worse!

Via the Carnival of the Vanities.

My Best Prices order for Orguss 02 arrived today, and proved to be Booties and Ballers 2. Needless to say, I was not particularly impressed. Best Prices seems to be decaying as an online merchant.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"Banking on my hopes that whoever grades this will just look at the pictures, I drew an exponential through my noise."

Moe Lane at swears on a stack of Korans that this is an honest-to-god undergrad lab report, entitled "Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass".

Oh, and welcome back, Tacitus!
Apparently people have been mooting the Merovingian Heresy again in silly documentaries and novels. I'd heard of the Da Vinci Code, but I hadn't been aware that it was yet another retread of the old Priory of Sion saw. The best cure for this sort of nonsense is barking moonbat Robert Anton Wilson's Everything Is Under Control, on the "make 'em smoke three packs in a row" overdose-adversion program.
Josh Marshall continues to make me want to throw rotten eggs, and I won't normally be anywhere near where he is on any given foreign policy subject. Occasionally, he makes an accidental valid point. The Third World should be no-one's experimental political laboratory, whether they're internationalist socialists, fascists, or flat-tax enthusiasts. Don't ever, ever push a solution you haven't tried in your own country on someone else's country, let alone one you're currently occupying. It isn't an experiment, it's a country.
So I walked the whole twenty yards from my front door to the polling place. Boy, am I exhausted. Bellefonte does have its advantages - walking-distance access to just about every basic need is definitely one of them. My voting ward has its polling location in the Girl Scouts shack, across the alley from Wetzler's Funeral Home's combination garage-and-crematorium. The Girl Scouts hall/shack/whatever is in the back of a compound extending behind a grand old cut-stone house that belongs these days to the library - they use it for their important holdings, offices, and so on. The compound is surrounded by a waist-high red brick wall, topped with a wrought-iron fence, with a gate leading into the wooded garden between the shack and the library offices. The political activists normally set up on the sidewalk just outside of this gate, which qualifies as sufficiently far from the polling place to get around all of those politicking regulations.

This year, "NOWPAC" had two activists standing outside of the gate pushing a slate of approved candidates. Great! I thought - I don't know that much about the school board candidates this year. I looked at the paper they handed me. They had a single recommendation. For the State College school board. I noted this to the activist, and asked her if she was aware that Bellefonte is a separate school district. All she could do was shrug. She could have at least been embarrassed.

The only really competitive race, besides the one for county commissioner, was the one for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Max Baer vs. Joan Orie Melvin. I used the irritation principle for that race. Melvin's drones have been leaving automated messages on my answering machine for the last month. Very irritating. Baer, on the other hand, has concentrated, at least in my area, on cutesy bear-in-a-judicial-robe yard-signs, and not even very many of those. Baer, clearly, is the most considerate of the two candidates. Let's vote for him - even if the half-assed incompetents of "NOWPAC" endorse him.

(Here's an article about that race. It seems it was a good thing I deleted those messages half-way-through. Apparently they were dripping with sleazy accusations.)

I was feeling a little guilty about accepting a gimme pen from the "NOWPAC" people for Goreham without actually voting for her. Then I took a closer look at the pen. Made out of shitbrown cardboard. With a chip of pine wood for a clip. "Recycled" glyphs all over it. Screw it, I'm not feeling guilty for this crap. Dershem & Conklin it is!

Now, if you haven't grasped the significance of this post yet, there's truly no hope for you. Nevertheless, one more time: Election Day! Go vote, ya heathens!

Monday, November 03, 2003

Sheri at Two Nervous Dogs has some semi-constructive recommendations for Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem. She attributes her own current success to accidental pron-linkage and "drunken blogging". Me, I think that's an improvement on, oh, say, residual traffic from a regrettable series of catfights.

I have to say that I already click through to my current ranking-level on the Ecosystem. At this point, I know who the cool kids are. It's more interesting to check out my pimply-outcast cohort of peers, y'know?
Chromal told me today that the copy of Quicksilver that I loaned him is missing, and he suspects that a waiter at one of the Bellefonte eateries "claimed" the book when Chromal accidentally left it behind. I'm not too exercised about it - Chromal'll replace it if it's gone for good, and I already got most of my marginal value out of the purchase by reading it, and then loaning it to a friend. I'm just bemused by the idea of a Bellefonte waiter getting excited enough about Neal Stephenson that he would steal a 900-page catkiller like Quicksilver.
Late last month, 114 scientists from the UK presented an open letter to the British government denouncing the Blair government's unwillingness to defend GM experimentation, and complicity in the consumer propaganda war against genetic engineering in that country. Given the violence with which British "activists" react to the slightest hint of genetic engineering in an agronomic setting, my sympathies must go out to these much-put-upon scientists.

Via Norm Geras.
Jeff Jarvis ripped into Lawrence Lessig and Mark Cooper's new book over the weekend. He has a lot to say about the subject - Jarvis was the creator of Entertainment Weekly, and is a professional in the journalism industry, and he gets quite irate at Lessig's brand of anti-capitalism.

To be absolutely honest, I've never been a great fan of media consolidation, and I worry about the potential for corruption. On the other hand, the internet has proved to be pretty well ungovernable, which from my point of view, is an excellent result.

Jarvis makes the point that the Lessigs and Coopers are truth-seekers, in the obsessive, forceful sense. I think I've always feared truth-seekers - idealists. People who passionately search for Truth are terribly prone to think they've found it, and all too often, what they've found is one of a billion blind alleys, snake-oil nostrums, or superstitious suppositions. Given a choice between media rule by passion, and media rule by greed, I will always take greed. Greed is rational. The real danger in a capitalist system is its perversion by noncapitalist forces - that the capitalist harbors secret passions that work against his absolute financial self-interests. While this is a worry, it hardly serves to replace a fear of passionate bias with the certainty of it.