Friday, January 30, 2004


The agency said Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar Bin Sultan has refused to take responsibility for the Saudi embassy in Washington. The agency cited a source as saying he hasn't entered the embassy in years.

I have no idea how reliable this particular news source is - I've never heard of the "World Tribune". I just had to marvel at the idea that an Ambassador with more than ten years of experience on the Washington scene, one who enjoys the reputation of being one of the most influential diplomats in the country, has *NOT SET FOOT IN HIS OWN EMBASSY IN YEARS*. The mind boggles.

Oh, yeah - and we expelled over seventy Saudi diplomats over the last month. For acting as propagandists for al Queda.

Wait, what?

Via Instapundit.
Demonstrating why you should never, ever take your political cues from performing artists, Moby endorses Al Sharpton. Notice how his criteria are entirely performative - Sharpton is well-spoken, gives a good performance, sounds good on the stump, the endorser "likes" him. Moby's reasons for endorsing his candidate are entirely presentational - how he comes across. No mention of Sharpton's career failure to get elected to so much as the borough council; no mention of his history of political blackmail, monumental dishonesty, nor his utility to the New York Republican Party as a racial spoiler against mainstream Democratic contenders. The only thing that matters is what kind of show Sharpton puts on - how much love he gives an audience.

Never trust an artist with your politics - for every Reagan you luck onto, you'll find yourself burdened with three dozen Sean Penns, Susan Sarandons, Errol Flynns, Mobys, or Babara Streisands.

Via Tacitus.
You gotta love a guy whose secretary starts conversations with "Listen, asshole..." Joe Trippi makes me look like a people person in comparison. Of course, Carville has pretty much the same reputation... the only difference is that Carville actually wins campaigns. In retrospect, I can't imagine what inspires politicians to hire Trippi. The concentrated charisma of monumentally obnoxious egotism?

That article was proofread by a monkey, by the way. Every instance of "office" has been replaced with the word "once". Does GQ actually have any editors, or do they just put random relatives on the masthead?

"They're robocalling our ones," he moans. Their "ones" are the Iowans they've identified as absolutely, positively Dean voters (though it would turn out that they were absolutely, positively wrong on the number). He has just gotten a report from the field that Dean "ones" are getting bombarded with computer-generated phone calls telling them to make sure to caucus for Dean—then giving them the wrong address.
Who would do such a thing?
"Kerry," he snaps. "They're the only asshole snake campaign that would do it."

You know, when Republicans indulge in this sort of ratfucking, Josh Marshall is all over it. I don't remember him yelling about this. Do you? Of course, it could be Trippi's own cultist-slacker volunteers getting their call-sheets mixed up, and sending their people to the wrong places *by accident*. I wouldn't put it past the headcase loons the Deans apparently fielded in Iowa.

Hrm. This was written by a "Lisa Depaulo". I know it's sexist of me, but the article really read "male" to me. I guess it's just because you don't see many female writers doing gonzo, let alone political gonzo. The Gender Genie agrees with me – it gave the article a 6316/9086 male score.

Via Tom McGuire.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

I regularly read a webcomic called "Life of Riley" by the Clan BOB collective. It's a half-gaming, half-apocalyptic soap opera sort of deal. Goofy, but lots of fun. They recently introduced Lilith as a character, and made an offhand reference to Nippur bowls, which went right over my head. They were kind enough to provide a link to a paper on Nippur bowls in particular, and Lilith traditions in general. That last link is a pretty solid paper on the textual references to Lilith over the millennia, from secondary Gilgamesh stories and Isaiah to rabbinical satires and medieval Kabbalistic arcana.

The rabbinical satire, the Alphabet of Ben Sira, sounds interesting. Sadly, it seems as if there has never been a full English translation of the book. There's a partial translation in an out-of-print book called Rabbinic Fantasies (Stern, David and Mirsky, Mark J. (1990). Rabbinic Fantasies; "The Alphabet of Ben Sira". New Haven: Yale University Press); looks like Pattee Library has a copy on campus. Maybe I'll make a trip of it this weekend.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

"A tragedy for the American soldiers, the British, the Poles and every one else ...who have to struggle on bitterly against the worst kind of nihilists, and have been getting damn little support or even moral solidarity from people who describe themselves as antifascists in the world's richest and fattest neighborhoods."

Have I mentioned lately just how much I adore Paul Berman? He's like Hitchens without the conversion-experience attitude.

...and there was nothing left to do but to hit each other over the head with our respective drinks.

There's nothing quite so amusing as having a writer defend a Republican against leftist rage by calling it 'false consciousness.' It would have been perfect if he had thrown in a line about 'mystification'.

Via Roger L. Simon.
Ben "Chromal" Hauger emails a link to a fairly cool London art project: a pink tank.

Tres cool. I wonder why there was a T-34/85 parked in the middle of London? Where the hell did it come from? They don't identify what it is in the accompanying text - it's a late-war Russian tank from WWII - a T-34 with a bigger turret & a high-velocity 85mm gun. So far as I know, the British never got any of them, unless it's a capture from Korea or the Suez War.

I mean, it could be a Bob Rector-type collector's tank, but why would somebody put tens of thousands of dollars into importing a tank and then abandon it in the middle of London? To judge from the "before" pictures, it was a rusting, abandoned grafitti-magnet.
It looks as if Lieberman's irresponsible and feckless disregard for the financial interests of the providers of his campaign funds might possibly provide me with the opportunity to be equally irresponsible with my primary vote when its finally Pennsylvania's turn to close it's collective eyes and wing one in the general direction of the electoral dartboard. Yay, Joe.

You'll never be president, but at least you can provide an ideological out for the last half-dozen or so Scoop Jackson Democrats left in the party.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Mark Miyake of Abode of Amritas asks what the word "well" is doing in this sentence:

Well,* that wasn't Sean Kinsell's intention, but his words do describe the world view of...

I'm not sure what the technical term is for it, but I've always called them "throat-clearers". Words such as "like" or "well" or "ano", noises that are half-word and half-nonsense, like "er" and "um" and "ah". They're informal oral devices, which aren't technically supposed to be used in formal settings such as public speech or formal writing. Or at least, that's what I think they are.
So how do you spell it "Hawaii" or "Hawai'i"? The state front-page spells it in the former fashion, the governor's page spells it with the apostrophe. And what the hell is up with a state website where the only functioning link is the one to the governor's page? Half-assed half-hearted half-state bullshit, if you ask me.
With all this news about the primaries, and with all the buzz about the "accelerated" primary season, I was getting all excited about my first serious primary as a Democrat. So when is Pennsylvania's primary? April 27th, same as always. What the hell?

California, Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest are screwed on Election night by their placement several time-zones away from the electoral center of the country, in Eastern and Central. In decisive contests, the election is over before some West-Coasters can even get to the polls. Pennsylvania is self-screwed by the dinosaurs of our party committees, who didn't scramble for the top of the calendar with the rest of the "Feiler Faster" crowd. While it doesn't seem as if the nomination will be sewn up by April 27th, there's a pretty damn good chance that your and my first choices will have been driven out of competition by then.

Last cycle, when I was a liberal Republican, McCain had pretty much thrown in the towel by the time I had a chance to vote in the Pennsylvania primary. This cycle, it seems as if only Lieberman's stubborn intractability will make it possible for me to throw my vote away on a doomed protest candidate.
Al Franken assaulted a LaRouchite heckler at a Dean rally. You can't make this shit up, people. Not that I blame him too much. LaRouchites would try the patience of a saint, let alone your average hair-trigger pundit.

I got some email from a LaRouchite challenging me to a debate a week or two ago. At first, I thought this challenge had come out of the clear blue, until I remembered an offhand comment I had made on Command Post last summer, questioning whether the solicitation of campaign funds for a presidential run by a convicted felon wasn't some sort of fraud. I still can't believe that the LaRouchites are back. I would have thought that they'd be objects of Cold-War nostalgia, like the Hare Krishnas they used to share airport terminal soapbox space with.

Monday, January 26, 2004

There's a bit of a stink kicking up from a free festival in Edmonton, Alberta called Animethon. They're a festival more than a convention, in that they rely on donations and sponsors to cover their bills instead of registration fees. Looks like they have the usual secondary income sources, such as program-book advertising, dealers' fees, probably merchandising and the like. But these secondary income sources are generally not enough to cover much more than the immediate departments involved. Dealers' fees can be a profit center if structured properly, but it's been my experience that the advertising fees don't even cover the cost of the publishing department, let alone anyone else. Merchandising can be a profit center, but it's easy to overproduce. For the convention I work for, registration fees represent the overwhelming majority of income.

It sounds as if Animethon was using sponsor donations to cover the operating budget, probably from Grant MacEwan College, a school so obscure I've never heard of it before. I can't imagine how they've been making ends meet - probably by skimping on materials and relying on free meeting space from their college.

Nevertheless, they've got an "attendee" base of about three thousand. Keep in mind that these are "free ice cream" numbers - the "attendees" are the general public, and aren't technically paying to get in, although it sounds as if there's a "donation" requested for an associated charity. It's probably how the college is justifying free meeting space.

From the tone of open letter #1 and open letter #2, it sounds as if what we're looking at is a textbook case of conrunner burnout. The original staff core failed to put in place a mechanism for replacing themselves, and now find themselves chained to their positions with bonds forged equally of ego and despair.

Now, Canada is a different legal environment from that of the United States, and I don't know the particularities of the situation in which the Animethon people find themselves. It's possible that their association with a campus group, "BAKA", may prevent them from converting Animethon into a proper convention, with registration fees, etcetera. This is one of the reasons we didn't form our convention as an adjunct of the campus group in which it was originally conceived. Another reason was the bad prior experience this campus group had suffered as the result of a disastrous science fiction convention held by that group a number of years before I had become a member. In Animethon's case, it is the festival which is constrained by its ties to the parent campus group; in my campus group's case, it was the dangers the failure of yet another convention posed to a fragile campus club.

Any festival or convention the size and scale of Animethon [attendance
4,000?] taking place in the anime community or outside of it has a core of
paid staff that organize and operate it.

This excerpt caused a bit of excitement, in that it seems to make the false and malicious claim that all major conventions employ their core staff. (No, this is not true - not even for Project A-Kon, which is technically a for-profit company, unlike the rest of the pack, which are almost all non-profit corporations of one stripe or another.) However, if you read the rest of the paragraph:

I prefer to couch it in more psychological terms than financial though. When rewarded, even simply by a modest honorarium or free admission to what would otherwise be a paid event - staff have an incentive to put in an effort, and a penalty if they do not perform. An incentive to go the extra mile, to investigate, to pursue efforts they would not normally. A salary, honorarium or tangible fringe benefits from free food to preferred admission make a person accountable for their actions, and accountability is something sorely lacking in several incidents in even this past year.

As you can see, the author is using a definition of "paid staff" that is vague enough to include every category of worker from paid full-time employee to volunteer staff to gofers who get free crash space or a t-shirt in exchange for a number of hours worked. This type of vague definition would normally represent a masking attempt, usually in conjunction with some sort of slight-of-hand designed to move the goal-posts from "volunteer staff" to "full-time paid employee". I would not go that far in this case, as the author is clearly trying to exaggerate the steps necessary to convert the festival to a membership-fee convention.
No Cameras notes the recent burst of revelations about the dispersal of Pakistani nuclear technology to rogue states in the last ten years or so. I'd like to note that all of the public hand-wringing from the anti-proliferation crowd that I can remember from the "New World Order" Nineties was about the materials, technologies, weapons, and scientists of the former Soviet Union. Perhaps it's just my selective memory, but it seems to me that everyone was worried about chaos and anarchy, while all the time, a state actor or that state actor's direct employees, were distributing those very prohibited technologies with a metaphorical fire-hose.

I'm not a libertarian, but it's my increasing feeling that the state actor is always to be feared first, and not last.
Pixy Misa of Ambient Irony is celebrating the Australia Day weekend with his granddaughter Trixie's rambling, highly critical review of Allistar Reynold's Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days and Elizabeth Moon's Trading in Danger, and how peculiar certain scientifictional assumptions appear in retrospect.

I can't find words strong enough for a proper recommendation of these articles. Go read them - really.

Hey, Pixy, how's that novel coming?

Friday, January 23, 2004

One of the more interesting non-polemical bits from Fagan's The Long Summer was the idea of ecotone-straddling. This is a practice of groups which settle on the borders between one habitat ("ecotone" is the term he used) and another. That is, instead of planting your village in the middle of a plain, or in the middle of the hills, you want to settle on the edge of the plains and the hills. When the weather and season favors the grains and animals of the plain, you can live off of the bountiful plain. When the weather or season turns the other way, you can go hunting, or harvesting nuts and such, in the hills. The idea is a sort of hedging of bets - by placing yourself on the edge of two or more habitats, you can enjoy the safety of an ecological back-up.

You can sort of see the same effect occurring in the blogspheres. People whose reading and links are largely within the same ideological habitat, are less fruitful of interesting material than those that straddle real ideological divides. Someone with one foot in libertarian circles, and another in leftist circles is going to have more to talk about to each side of the divide, largely because she's going to be able to pass material gathered in one circle, and offer it as a novelty in the other circle. But it also means that actual news that won't grab the denizens of one circle, will be interesting to the other. Thus is avoided the dreaded blog-famines driven by temporary droughts of originality, ambition, or interest.
My personal frame of reference for talk about corporate governance was my term of service on the board of directors of a fannish non-profit corporation. Now, the interests of this group were essentially non-economic. The idea was to run a convention, not make anybody rich, not employ anybody, not serve anybody's financial or legal interest. The corporation existed as a shield to permit the activities inherent in running a fan convention to occur without serious legal or economic risk to any of the participants. The goal was to allow the convention to run, and to continue to run, without exposing anyone to serious risk of legal liability or economic loss. The corporation, and thus the board, exists to serve these interests. There aren't any shareholders to speak of - in a 501(c)3, they're replaced by a membership, (in our case, Active Members) who don't have any serious financial interest in the corporation. The Active Members and the "members" - the attendees of the convention - pay membership dues which give them certain rights as defined in the corporate bylaws. This does not give them any claim on revenues, profits, or other financial considerations that the corporation might produce.

The "high-risk" pressure from the membership doesn't exist in the form of a profit-maximizing interest, as it would in a for-profit corporation, but rather in demands for the coolest convention possible. The "low-risk" pressure from the management of the convention - the fear of failure - is less than you would think, due largely to short management terms. The management of the convention serves at the pleasure of the president, who is defined in the bylaws as that year's con-chair. He cannot serve more than one term concurrently. Similar bylaws provide for short terms of office for the other offices - you can't hold an office for more than three years, and you can't hold a seat of the board for longer than, hrm, six years I think.

The actual conservative pressure, by the way, is expressed largely from a distinct group of Active Members, some number of which are usually representing their faction on the Board. This group is always pushing hard for a secondary priority - the creation and maintenance of a "disaster" reserve of capital equivalent to "one convention" - the resources necessary to fund and operate one year's convention, in the case of a total fiscal failure in any particular year. Think of it as a granary against cataclysmic drought. This reserve is more an ambition than an actuality, mostly because the convention and its budget keeps growing beyond what might have accumulated in the current reserve. Cold-funding a convention of 300, 1200, or even 5000 members is far cheaper than cold-funding a convention with attendance in five digits.

So far, the board has been able to avoid serious problems of self-dealing and fraud. There was a problem a few years ago, when I was the President, but the issue involved an individual who was not on the board proper. The board came together, charged the individual with returning the misappropriated property and capital, and that was that. In practice, it worked more as a shunning, than any sort of legal procedure, but it did work. At least, I haven't heard of any similar incident since then. Other convention-corporations, with much more rigid, powerful, and permanent boards, have gotten themselves in considerably deeper waters with a capital reserve. I think the difference between that case and my case is that their board was not representative of the interests of their membership, but rather acted as a permanent, interested party. Our board is rather a collection of limited-term representatives of greater interests.

Wait, no, that's not true. Rather, that board became a collection of proxies for one, particular, permanent interest, which used a nondemocratic director selection process to fill the board with influenced outsiders with no direct interest in the internal questions of the corporation/convention. An advantaged interest drives out disinterest, and fills the vacuum with its own interest, instead of negotiating with the other interests.
Prof. Bainbridge has posted the text of a lecture on the business judgment rule that contains an interesting definition of his "director primacy" theory. Now, he's been referring to director primacy throughout the life of his blog, but this is the first time I've seen a full explanation of his conception of the corporate board of directors as "hiring the factors of production", by which he means capital, management, labor and resources. More broadly, he is a proponent of this "director primacy" theory of corporate governance, over the conventional "shareholder primacy" theory, which holds that the corporation is a creature of the capital represented by its existing stock issuance. Bainbridge holds that the shareholder is a hireling of the corporation, in the same sense as employees, managers, contractors, and bondholders are hirelings of the corporation.

Now, I am not a lawyer, thus it follows that I can't be any sort of expert on corporate governance. But, as they say, everyone has [an opinion]... Consider it the blog equivalent of thinking out loud.

I can't help but feel that "director primacy" is structurally arbitrary - why should the directors' relationship with the corporation be privileged over that of the shareholders'? In most cases, the directors did not create the corporation, but are rather, themselves, hirelings of the corporation, delegated limited and indirect decision-making authority.

I strongly suspect that this doctrine of "director primacy" is also historically arbitrary - directors are far more often the creatures or cronies of management or majority/plurality shareholders, than they are independent agents. I'm no expert in the subject, but the instances I can think of where the directors are powerful in their own right, that power is usually an expression of some form of interlocking directorate scheme, where the directors derive their power from a syndicate of shareholders or conspirators in some greater, extra-corporate entity, like a trust. CEOs do not "capture" a board - more often than not, they're the architect of the board. They *create* the board by control over the means of appointment. The independent board of directors seems to be no more common in the wild than, say, a free quark. To insist that independent boards of directors can exist in the wild without artificial means strikes me as rather dubious. Thus, I have to wonder at someone who champions directorial independence, while rejecting the very sort of regulation required to maintain such a creature.

Bainbridge points out the conflicting interests of shareholders and managers. Shareholders are protected from the extremes of risk-derived failure, and thus are rationally inclined towards higher-risk decisions. Managers are more exposed to the fallout of high-risk decision-making, and thus will tend towards a lower-risk decision-path, to avoid such things as liability for corporate actions, or the degradation of their human capital. Bainbridge specifically notes the manager's inability to diversify his "capital" in the same fashion that a rational shareholder does, by spreading investments among different corporations. The board, on the other hand, has no significant financial interest in the corporation, by design. A director can sit on numerous boards, and thus "diversify" his "human capital". A director's reputation is not tied intrinsically with the fate of whatever corporations he or she might serve as a director. The director is essentially disinterested in the economic fate of the corporation, barring any self-dealing allowed by the other creatures of the corporation, the law, or the regulation of the state. I would think that it is this very structural disinterest that drives the inevitable capture of a board by one of the other creatures of the corporation, or by outside forces. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, economics must abhor disinterest. The disinterest of the ideal director is displaced by interests: the cronies of the CEO, the representatives of the shareholders or the unions, the agents of an external agent such as a trust or syndicate.

I like his use of "bounded rationality" to argue that rules like the "business judgment rule" are an example of judges "shirking", or avoiding work through a simple heuristic. That is, a legal rule giving strong protection to boards means that the courts don't have to *deal* with insanely complex business judgments, or have to do the work of the boards in the course of evaluating whether their performance meets a required standard of adherence to the shareholder interest. He further notes that due to Delaware's status as a favored residence for corporations, the judges of that state have a much larger body of experience in corporate law, and thus have a lesser inclination to avoid this sort of "shirking", which would explain why the judges of Delaware have recently begun applying a much less stringent version of the "business judgment rule". That is to say, because they have a greater body of experience, they're more inclined to become activists on the subject.

He goes on to discuss boards as consensus-based teams, with accompanying group dynamics. I have to wonder what the difference is between a "team" and a board of representatives? One usually imagines a team as consisting of independent individuals, whose allegiances extend only within the closed system of the team itself. This is not the case in entities like a corporate board of directors. Individual directors are not, usually, independent, but are rather representative of interests or bodies of interests. The CEO's cronies are in this corner, the shareholder representatives in the other, perhaps a minority shareholder representative, or a union advocate, someone with greater industry interests, even trust or syndicate representatives. The result is not consensus, but negotiation.

I have to think that his emphasis on fraud and self-dealing is less to the point than concern over the director as representative of a greater, aggregate fraud, a syndicate for self-dealing on a grander scale. That is, I'm having trouble getting into his mindset, of imagining the directors as agents in their own right, rather than representative of

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Salam wants to know if Iraq is becoming the 51st state.

Well, do you want to be? I mean, if I were you, I'd hold out for the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd states, at the least. It would make for some significant problems with language incompatibilities and the like. But, you know, you could do worse. And we've dealt with large non-English-speaking minorities before - the early Republic had over three hundred thousand German speakers in a population of four million - and I think we have more Spanish-speaking American citizens right now than there are Iraqis.

Personally, I've thought that the solution to long-term political stability in Iraq would be an United Governates of Mesopotamia, but no-body of importance seems to agree with me, given how fast they're pushing this whole June 30th thing. Somebody needs to remind Sistani that the American Constitutional Convention was an undemocratic, self-selected body of elites. Popular sovereignty means the people vote in favor of a constitution; it doesn't say anything about drafting the constitution by democratic or popular means. The push-and-jostle of campaigning produced the Bill of Rights, not any formal process of institutional consensus.

Anyways, if Iraqis want to petition to join the United States, there are procedures in place in our Constitution for such an eventuality. Be mindful of Article IV, Section 4, though. You do actually have to have a valid and operational set of state institutions in place before they can accept you. It isn't a short-cut for avoiding the work of constructing a grown-up government. That would be "declaring oneself a U.S. Territory". And we already have one more Puerto Rico than we really need, thank you very much.

Hey, I'm all for new states. It's been more than forty years since the last new state, but that doesn't mean that there can't be more. Would make something of a hash of the flag, though. How the hell do you balance 51 or 53 stars on a field?

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

George Soros offers a candidate for the official motto of the post-9/11 intellectual: Unfortunately, I don't have time to read; I only have time to write.

It's an interesting interview. I find myself going back and forth on the subject of Soros. On the one hand, he's a rich man who's put his wealth towards a very laudable, and successful organizational drive for practical democracy in Eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union. I mean, look at the success in Georgia late last year. On the other hand, he's a moral idiot of the first water. Observe:

By saying what I'm saying, I'm not comparing Bush to a Nazi. I'm not calling Bush a Nazi. I want to make it very, very explicit that I'm not. And I don't think that the comparison is helpful. In fact, I think it's harmful.

It's a different threat. And it's actually a very strange, unexpected [threat]. If you go back to this Doublespeak and the threat of deception, the Goebbels propaganda machine had a total monopoly of the media. The Soviets had such control that they could actually erase people from history, airbrush out leaders who fell, who were disgraced. The deception in America is practiced while you do have pluralistic media.

He wants - ever so badly - to call his enemies names, but he doesn't want to be caught, yet again, in violation of Godwin's Law. So he's going to say what he isn't going to say, then he's going to say it, then he's going to tell you he didn't just say what he just said.

You do have, you know, different channels that are available. Nevertheless, something is going on in the way of managing the interpretation of reality that is actually successful and poses a danger to open society.

I think what's going on here is a demonstration of just how little a career in currency manipulation prepares one for dealing with practical politics, or with people in general. Soros was not only a CEO, with all the authoritarianism and Big Man fetishism that goes with that lofty perch; he was a CEO in the currency markets, where social graces and consensual leadership are deeply discounted, and predatory behavior are rewarded disproportionately. To Soros, the normal bump-and-jostle of actual practical politics, of actual mass communications and public partisanship, are difficult to distinguish from totalitarian Big Lie propaganda.

Soros and Marshall both push heavily for a return to international legalism, and a dismantling of American supersovereignty, to coin a word. They think that the doddering old derelict can be picked up off of the curb, dusted off, put in a nice new suit, and be marched forth as Sheriff UN, ready to do battle with outlaws. To the Soroses and Marshalls of the world, the solution to the "anachronism" of national sovereignty is not an exploration of new alternatives, possible solutions - rather, it's a redoubling of effort behind the very institutions that failed so spectacularly and visibly in the late 90s and early 00s. There's some congitive dissonance that makes them fail to recognize that the very problem of national sovereignty for failed states cannot be solved by institutions reliant on the "legitimacy" of the national sovereignty of failed states. The problem isn't with an American supersovereignty; it's with a Libyan or Syrian or Zimbabwean sovereignty which is equal and interchangeable with the sovereignty of a Germany, a Norway, a Nicaragua, an India or a Singapore.

Soros and Marshall's dream world of strong international law will be nothing more than a fevre-dream until the day in which international institutions which regard legitimacy as indistinguishable from popular sovereignty are the rule, and not the exception.
Jeff Jarvis shines a spotlight on a webroach called Vibrant Media. They're pushing something called IntelliTXT, which will scan content for keywords related to those of advertiser's products, and intrusively add direct hyperlinks to the scanned content. I can easily see freeware bloghosting sites adopting this monstrosity, and making their bloggers into inadvertent shills.

Google's targeted ads don't bother me - they stay in their place, they're clearly labeled as ads, and it's well understood that the writer has no control over them, except in the indirect sense of talking about X will elicit random ads on approximately the same subject. I've seen forums (such as Angels from Another Pin's, ferinstance) amuse themselves by attempting to engineer the Google ads with targeted jabber.

This "IntelliTXT" goes beyond mere targeting, and literally hijacks the content. If I'm ranting about the horrors of the Dean candidacy, I don't want to spasmodically link to Margaret Cho's site without actually, you know, intending it. I could imagine a MoveOn enthusiast ranting about Bush and Hitler, and find herself accidentally linking to David Duke propaganda, or, even worse – Kim du Toit. Neither outcome is something we objectively want to see, however funny it might be in the heat of the moment.
Crazy Kimchi points to a lexicographer offering a modest proposal for a pictographic reform of English. At first I thought it was an elaborate, ironic joke, but apparently the writer was just being sneakily pedagogic, intent on giving an indirect Chinese lesson.

I had not been aware that there was a significant rhyming or phonetic element to hanzi, at least in the original formulation. I had assumed that it was largely representational, rather than phonetic. Given that the writing scheme has been spread over more than a dozen languages with incompatible phonetics, this explains much about the incoherence of, say, Japanese kanji, if there are significant elements of punning in the donor-language.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Erin O'Connor started up another catfight by publishing an anonymous letter from a grad student irate over wasting a year and a half on a worthless dissertation topic chosen by an adviser to "extend" some of his work. O'Connor departed from her usual habit by enabling comments, and several of the responses are... illuminating. Condescending. Stereotyping. Arrogant. Reliant on appeals to authority. Now, I have to say that I am more than halfway to a mathematical idiot. I am the worst possible person to evaluate a kerfluffle in Mathland. But I recognize the ripe smell of freshly-aired gangrenous flesh when it wafts in front of my nose, and I am... interested in what is going on here. I'd especially like to hear more about this contempt for MA candidates that the commenters are discussing. If any field is subject to loss of coherency due to the latter of material getting too deep, I would think that mathematics would be that field. I have a friend in mathematics. I'll see if I can get him to comment on the subject.
Kerry, huh? There's a reason I never could get excited about John Kerry... Oh, well. Iowa isn't the bellwether its boosters believe it to be. Let's see if New Hampshire turns around. I'll probably stick with Lieberman. I can be stubborn once I've made my choice... Poor Gephardt. Always a bridesmaid, never the bride. From the polling results, he never had a chance in Iowa. 75% anti-war! Imagine that. Wonder what the primary numbers will be for New Hampshire?

Monday, January 19, 2004

Yikes. Middle Tennessee Anime Convention has announced a change of venue within three months of showtime, according to Anime News Network.

The convention I help run did something like this its third year. However, we (actually, they - I was on the outs that year, and was sulking in my tent for the planning and such) made that change with about nine or ten months to go. It was just before the Web was becoming a serious advertising source, and a single run of flyers were distributed at our then-rival convention, a New Jersey affair which died soon thereafter. A second run of flyers were run off with the new Baltimore-area location and dates, and all remaining copies of the original flyer were destroyed or removed from circulation. The move out of the mountainous backhollows of central Pennsylvania turned out to be an organization-saving move, and started the long march towards national dominance of the con scene.

Nevertheless, on the weekend that the phantom Pennsylvanian con would have run if the change hadn't been made, we got a mournful, confused call from a solitary fan in the abandoned hotel: "I'm here. Where is the con?" No-one picked up; it went to the answering machine. That anonymous woman disappeared into the mists of fandom, forever betrayed by the fecklessness of conrunner sons-of-bitches.

I wish Anime News Network would use article permalinks. It kind of sucks, having to link to the site instead of the item.
Instapundit has some links about the initiation of an audit into the nonprofit The Nature Conservancy. I just came back from a weekend staff meeting for a nonprofit I helped found, and still do a little work for It's a 501(c)3 membership organization, whose primary activity is running an East Asian pop culture convention. One of the issues discussed was the current feeling among nonprofits that the hammer's coming down on the quick and the dead.

I sat in on a "Contracts 101" seminar given by our lawyer, where the primary message delivered was "they are cracking down, we need to make sure everything is explicitly organized and above-board". Our lawyer's solution was to cover all functions by contract. He was worried about the dual structure of the corporation and the convention. That is, the corporation consists of Active Members, who are not necessarily staffers, and the convention is run by staffers, who are not necessarily Active Members. In practice, most staffers are Active Members, and I don't know of a case where an Active Member *isn't* a staffer. Amusingly enough, I wasn't listed as an Active Member for the general budget meeting - I should be, but someone hadn't updated the list properly. I didn't care enough about it to try to fix the problem, and blew off the general meeting to play dominoes and Boggle, instead. Ain't burnout grand?

The problem here is that every single staffer is a volunteer. Nobody gets direct compensation for being staff; there are some categories of "perks", but the only instance I can think of, of actual fee-for-service, was a programming job which was specifically covered by written contract. The perks are not out of line, either: we're talking about a sleeping space for the convention, the option to wave Active Membership dues in lieu of travel costs to planning meetings, the occasional mass pizza order for events like "time to stuff handout packets before registration starts", and this weekend's meeting, known formally and affectionately as "ComCon", for "Committee Convention", sort of a mini-event for staffers and Active Members. ComCon and the at-con hotel rooms together are less than ten percent of the budget; ComCon is less than half a percent. It's pretty clean from a practical standpoint, as nonprofits go.

I'm not convinced that forcing several hundred volunteer staffers into explicit contract situations is going to do all that much to idemnify us from a hypothetical auditorial harrowing, and it's my feeling that we have enough trouble attracting sufficient volunteers to run what's becoming an increasingly oversize beast of an event. ComCon is about as far as I'm willing to see the nonprofit & con go in terms of making the volunteer staffers happy. Anything that's likely to make staff less happy and more bureaucracy-burned is also likely to cause a higher level of staff discontent, and thus pressure to do more stuff to make staff and potential staff happy. Stuff that diverts resources from core purposes to staff privileges or benefits. In other words, I fear that more formality will make us a lesser non-profit - one that has a worse mission-to-other-crap budget ratio than we currently enjoy.
Mark Sachs at One Small Step has a link to someone doing repair work on a set of images from Russian landers on Venus in the Seventies and Eighties. Very cool. While the first lander, Venera-9, landed in what looks like a typical Mars-esque rock pile, the other three, Venera-10, Venera-13, and Venera-14 are quite different. The ground is covered in flat, almost paving-quality rock, like irregular slate. The rock seems to have the crumbly quality of sandstone, but that probably has more to do with the highly reducing sulfuric-acid atmosphere than the actual composition of the material.
All thanks to the folks at HaloScan for picking up the BlogSpeak orphans, and making the transfer process so simple that even a technical idiot like yours truly was able to make the move without tripping over his dick more than once or twice. Thanks, guys.
Quoth Fred Ramsey:
Spring Creek Slammers'

February Poetry Slam



Zeno's Pub

State College, PA

Slam Host: Dora McQuaid

Featured Poet: Fred Ramsey

Cover Charge: $2

Competition Fee: $3

Cash Prize Awarded to Winner

The Spring Creek Slammers are members of Poetry Slam Inc and our slams are run according to National Poetry Slam rules:

Please come prepared to perform three different original poems.
You will have three minutes to make your presentation without incurring a time penalty.
Competitors will be judged on both the quality of their poetry and on the quality of their performance.
No props permitted.
Note date change.

We will be hosting this slam on the second Sunday in February because of Super Bowl activities at Zeno's.

Please note that attendance at the slams is somewhat erratic. On the plus side, they had a really good, big slam at First Night. On the minus side, the regular sessions have been heavier on the bull session than mike time. I haven't written anything since the spontaneous poetry thing at First Night, anyways, so I'll probably be just listening this time around...

Friday, January 16, 2004

Hey! Nadesico Thumbnail Theater! I love these things...
While we're on the subject, here's Sgt. Stryker's ode to compulsory apple-polishing, aircrew maintenance-style: "Sam Fox".
In the grand tradition of excellently bad poetry, Frank J. offers "A Poem for a Whole Mother".
This ain't good. Muslim kid gets suspended from a Dutch school, and he goes back with a gun & fatally shoots a teacher. After he's arrested, crowds of other Muslim kids protest in his support. That's pretty damn ugly news. Jurjen was trying to tell me last fall that the Netherlands isn't France, that the ethnic strife and rise in crime wasn't a Europe-wide issue. I can't but think that this is anecdotal refutation, if not, y'know, actual refutation.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

"Don't ask how Howie knows; he has his ways."

Doug Merrill of Fistful of Euros pointed out that a Minister for Families, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth seems to have inadvertently advertised the German government's intention to phase out the draft. This is because the German draft is near-universal, and thus tends to sweep up enormous numbers of conscientious objectors, who do their time in various social-work and hospital settings instead of in the military. The Minister was warning those social-work and health-care institutions under her care to get ready to do without their indentured servants, as they will be going away.

I have to wonder how important this "Zivildienst" is to the German economy. Is it a short-cut through the intimidating thicket of labor-controls that make the German labor market seem like a veritable Gibraltar of privilege? I mean, we're talking about a country that still relies heavily on apprenticeship, here.

Hrm, according to a random paper I found on Google,
Zivildienst has become indispensable for voluntary welfare work because it is no longer possible to finance professional staff members in place of COs. The Future. One can imagine what troubles welfare organizations would encounter if Zivildienst had to be discontinued together with compulsory military service. Persons entrusted to the care of young men performing Zivildienst would no longer be served. Critics suspect that compulsory military service must be maintained -- although there are no conclusive military, economic, and social reasons to continue it -- to supply an adequate number of young men for Zivildienst in order to make up for the shortages of workers in nursing and welfare work.

It sounds as if we're talking about labor market segments that have been priced out of full-time existence by the distorting pressure of the Zivildienst. Interesting.
If you're wondering where I've been, the answer is "in a corner with my nose stuck in a comic book". I've been reading the first two volumes of Hot Gimmick and Please Save My Earth, as well as the second volume of the Battle Royale manga. Between the manga and the books and the anime, I fear to see what my credit card bill for this month will be.

Hot Gimmick is your typical shoujo schoolgirl romance, just this side of jousei. No science fiction, no psychics, no fantastic elements. It's a much more, hrm, social story than your average shoujo romance. The focus isn't on school life, but rather on the village-life of the massive company housing complex in which our characters reside. Good-hearted, dopy Hatsumi is low girl on the totem pole - the middle daughter of a family with little status within the company. Her spoiled little sister and hard-studying older brother get all the attention and breaks, and everybody cringes whenever Mrs. Tachibara comes sniffing about, looking for anything that might embarrass the company. Of course Hatsumi will get caught in a compromising situation by Ryoji, the Tachibara's bullying genius-asshole of a son. He blackmails her into becoming his "slave", just in time for their childhood friend (and Hatsumi's one-time protector), Azusa, to return from his family's scandal-driven exile in the company hinterlands. Since it is shoujo, Azusa has become a hot magazine model, and is inexplicably interested in our self-effacing, dopy protagonist. She proceeds to get violently yanked back and forth between a socially defective Ryoji and a too-good-to-be-true Azusa.

Meh. That all sounds like back-cover copy, and bad copy at that. Anyways, it's a pretty spritely story, told in an engaging fashion, with some really excellent art. Brilliant art, actually. The artist, Aihara has a definite flair for facial expressions, with a distinct style that would have been mangled by a lesser transfer than the one provided. I believe the Viz edition is actually crisper and better-rendered than the Japanese tankoubon, and the paper quality is definitely better. Viz has come a long way since the bad old days of crappy colorized Ranma pamphleteering.

Viz isn't the only improvement in this story. Please Save My Earth is about sixteen years old, while Hot Gimmick is two or three years old. The difference in art quality and style is quite striking. Hot Gimmick is full of delicate line work, and intricate computer-generated shading which was literally impossible in 1987. Please Save My Earth, on the other hand, is flat and slightly cartoonish. If you're expecting the flawlessly tasteful perfection of the Please Save My Earth OAVs, you will probably be disappointed. But don't take this as a damning report. The OAVs were, at best, a sampling of the original story, and left the story in a half-told sort of disarray. The core of that story - how a group of children deal with the legacy of their prior reincarnations as alien scientist-survivors on the Moon - is still here, and hopefully will be developed in a fashion that produces an ending, rather than a blur of a montage. Don't get me wrong - Kazuo Yamazaki was and is one of my favorite anime directors, but Please Save My Earth was one of the least-well-suited stories to be given the early-Nineties six-episode-OAV treatment.

As for the second volume of Battle Royale, I have to say that the last thing I expected, after that murderously depressing first volume, was touching, or sweet. Kids are still dying in big-box-lots, but there's more nobility and decency than you'd think with that sadistic bastard Kamon holding a magnifying glass and waiting for sunlight.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Reasons Why I Can't Take American Comics Seriously I

The fact that comics like Spidergirl get published. I suppose I should count us all as lucky that Punishergirl didn't appear at the height of the direct-market bubble.

So saith someone with the whole ADV run of Devilman Lady on his DVD shelf... fanboy, thy name is hypocrisy.

Triggered by my realization that the "Spidergirl" comic referred to by John Jakala wasn't part of the bigger joke...

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Went to see my barber for a cut and trim over the lunch hour. Found her fighting a holding action against the failing plumbing of her room in the ground floor back of the Masonic Lodge, the second oldest building in town, next block over from my place. Seeing her wrestle with a plugged-in electric heater while standing in a puddle of water was hair-raising, to say the least. Bad weather always brings the recurrent clamour of the downtown fire companies scrambling towards one emergency or another. Between bursting pipes, overstrained heaters, and senescent wiring, Bellefonte life can be a bit more exciting than one might wish. I suppose I ought to be grateful that I only have to deal with an intermittent roof leak. My apartment is a relatively new extension on a much older building - I suspect that I'm actually younger than my dwelling, which is usually a good sign in this sort of town.

We found an actual log cabin on the back end of the hill last month. From Water Street, it looks like an intact building. I went on a trespassing expedition before the new year, to get a better look at it. It was, indeed, a log cabin, and it looks like it was in use as recently as ten or twenty years ago. The additional insulation on the inside walls makes that clear enough. Sadly, a tree of some girth apparently landed abeam of the roof at some point in the past, and crushed the cabin from gutter to beam, neatly cleaving it in two. I'm surprised it hasn't been razed.

Monday, January 12, 2004

One of my regular reads, Peaktalk, points out that the Netherlands has a law making it illegal to publish the surnames of accused or convicted felons for privacy reasons. While mind-boggling, this philosophy of absolute protection of criminals' rights explains why things like the incredably lenient sentencing of Pym Fortuyn's assassin occur in that country. It's a damned good thing the Dutch are so culturally regimented. I can't imagine what their legal philosophy would produce in a more chaotic society.
A tenured professor at Penn State Altoona is in trouble (the firing kind) for strongly opposing the new "Integrative Arts" degree program, and for offending a donor with a staging of Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. I'm not familiar with the Altoona campus (I came straight up to University Park instead of passing through one of the feeder campuses), so I've never heard of this professor before. I wish I could say that I'm surprised that Penn State would be so spineless, but the way the university is structured, the donor is always right. Where else would they get the money for their metastatic-cancerous construction campaign?

Via Erin O'Connor, but of course.
Jessica said, in a comment below,
I keep waiting on a unified, nifty box set for Utena. I want it to be horribly, titty pink, like the Barbie color. It'd be great if it had glittery sparkles on it, too, or maybe that metallic overlay stuff.

Barbie is, at best, a secondary market for the doll-fancier version of the drag queen. Its primary market is still prepubescent little girls. I thought that the early marketing by CPM of Utena was too pink-innocent-girlie in the first place. (I thought that they should have tried aiming it at the Zena Warrior Princess crowd, even though that market was a tad butch for Utena) The new DVDs have a much more neutral affect, and I think that's for the best. Having finished watching the DVDs, I now recognize that I was overstating Utena's transgressiveness, but that doesn't mean that it isn't still too mature for the pink-preteen-girly-squeal! demographic that a pink-heavy box would appeal to.

[Jesus, could I possibly squeeze more bad grammar into a paragraph than the above example? If any of my grade-school English teachers are dead, they're rolling in their graves e'en now.]

Anyways, my impression from the first time I watched Utena through, was that the show morphed from a slightly racy, eccentric magical girl show into something a great deal darker and polymorphously freaky. To a certain extent, that was an artifact of shock and projection. Now that I've seen the show through for a second time, I recognize that it's not quite as wild as I thought it was. Yes, the symbolism is still there, but then there's symbolism and subtext in all sorts of otherwise-whitebread material. Utena just made more of a deal about it in the actual text itself, and then hammered home the point with a lot of silly gratuitous bishounen beefcake which, upon reviewing, was closer to Tiger Beat than Playgirl.

That being said, we are talking about a show whose themes are the incest taboo and gender roles. Gender roles by itself isn't anything to get excited about. But Utena's sister-complex freakout take on gender roleplaying results in some damnably hinky material. It's a rare teen-audience-show in which the explicitly homosexual elements are the least transgressive and disturbing, but Utena manages to do it.

Of course, Utena's wilful trampling of the distinctions between homosocial and homosexual norms is nothing new to anyone who might have encountered any amount of fanfiction, so maybe I'm being a bit blas̩ here. Shock of the new and all that. But the rampant incest-romance elements РAkio-Anthy, and their two precursor-echos, Miki & his sister Kaori, and Touga & Nanami Рseem to put that issue firmly in the fore. Furthermore, the mythology of the Prince, a world of princesses and the witch-sibling seems to place the incest taboo at the heart of heterosexual romance, which is a damned strange way to look at the world, if you ask me. Looking at the ending in that light, it seems to suggest that homosexual romance is a broken solution to the sibling-incest-taboo problem.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's a brilliantly written and executed demonstration of this thesis. It's the theme itself that strikes me as bashit crazy. It's a solution in search of a problem. Of course, this could be my cultural conditioning speaking. Many anime and manga creators seem to be much more obsessed with the sibling incest taboo than your average American artist. Americans would seem to care more about the parental incest taboo. I don't think I've seen anything on that subject from any anime or manga creator outside of outright pornography, come to think of it.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Oh, by the way. Jurjen Smies' No Cameras is back, and with a vengeance. He's whaling on fucking moron Richard Perle, North Korea's lack of a need for nukes with 10,000 artillery tubes aimed at Seoul, and Michael Crichton's latest bullshit & the sacrosanct status of the *non*endangered species of whales. I had about given up on Jurjen - it's good to see him active and blogging again.
Murgh. Didn't intend to disappear like that, sorry. Bossman suddenly decided to demand that I, like, work for my salary. The nerve! So I was re-writing a user manual from cover to cover for the fourth or fifth time... Makework. Makes the world go round, it does.

I'm reading about six or seven books right now, once I finish the Blitzkrieg Myth I'll see if I can crank out a nice, thorough tap-dance on it's author's tiny little pin-sized skull. Reads as if one of those self-educated too-clever-by-half blowhards from the old alt.alternative.history.war newsgroup decided to write hisself a book, Martha. Full of proof-by-omission, mis-use of quotes, naked hero-worship and strawman molestation. The thesis is basically that J.F.C. Fuller and Gulio Douhet have much to answer for, and by god, they're gonna, if it's the last thing the author does. Bah.

In other news, Maison Ikkoku still rocks, if you can ignore Viz's subtitles, Utena is pretty nifty, and to judge from recent episodes of R.O.D TV and Godannar, there's some sort of microtrend in the offing in anime: childlike, brain-damaged ex-hotties as wards of our protagonists. Very odd.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Plague was, indeed
Something else
Too little to be a rat
Too wild to sit, quiet
Mere commonality
Micy silent
Like the other mice.
So, ratlike, he crept
Raiding the office larder
Trapped, mined
A juicy, dangerous place.
But, no matter how
Mice must die
When steel jaws close.
No chloroform will end
His broken misery.
But cuteness cures
Where daring fails
And today resides
Plague the half-rat
In the warm cage
Of a warmhearted fool.


Last request of the night, from a friend of one of the other poets. She asked for rats, chloroform, and a third element which I can't remember, and which I think I might have dropped from the composition. I explained the story behind it, and she was greatly amused.
Midwinter trek
Through the late
December thaws
From one mountain
To a distant valley
Family tradition
New minted.
Not New Years Eve
But the First Night
Not parties and waiting
But an ice-rimmed
Celebratory glow
Lost parade maybes
The search more important
Than the little loss
And to culminate,
An eruptive glory
Of fire and light
And an infant new year


Mother and daughter, visiting town from the mountains of Cambria County, west of Altoona. They had mis-placed the parade, which appeared obligingly as I was copying out a finished version of this poem for them.
"They died with their boots on"
Or the mighty pilot-hero
In his soaring jet
The physicality of gender
Derived from the things
Until the boots themselves
Stand erect
And airplanes cleave the
Skies in masculine ardour
Then came a October
Afghanistan burned
Under a woman's contrail
And tonight a lioness in GI boots
Strides upon Mesopotamian soil
While her little cub opens
Boardgame gifts
Christmas alone at home.


Customer-poet, who later was one of the slam competitors. She asked for "Gender, boots, airplane, boardgame", and I gave her something like this. My original notes weren't much like the finished product, and I'm not sure if I got this version quite like what I delivered into her hands.
Africa rises in my mind
Teeming land of many breeds
Ranks of animals
Two by two
Noah's ark
In rocks and soil
The earthen ship
Holding our idea
of Nature
While nature rots under my heels.


This was my first try at something for a stern little boy, who asked for something about Africa, then demanded if I would write couplets or haiku. I decided that this attempt was a little bitter and nasty for a child, and put it aside for the following haiku, which he was asking for, anyways. And yes, I'm aware that I dropped a syllable in the second line. You try composing formally while an intense little blond critic stares you down.

In Africa are
Many varied beasts
But little weather.
On the fifteenth hour
Of our Marathon
Boxing Day Session
The console began
A certain
Barely discernable
But definite steaming.
No! Not yet!
Our link Madlys
Beating the gum out of
Some random
Dead humper
Smeared in a sudden
Burst of staticky chaos
Well, poop!


Lyzzy and Madeline again, for a second round. They wanted something about the game they had been playing, the Legend of Zelda, featuring the words gum and poop. I live to serve.
Lyzzy came up
From the big town
Philly by the river
Philly by the bay
Visiting the folks
The high mountain
Family home
Far from the city
Far from the neighbors
Every year to spend
The holiday days
Brief between
Long school days
Madeline big cousin
Her holidays friend
And all too soon
It's see you
Next year.


Second set of customers, as named, above. Two young girls, asked for something built around their names. I'm damned bad at names, let alone strangely-spelled ones.
My little sister
Bundled up tight
new-shoe proud
Shy before the
Strange and bearded man
In that empty room
Big brother I
Staring, suspicious
Under my favorite cap
He asked a few
Pointless questions
I wonder if they're
Done with the ice sculptures yet?


The first set of customers - a mother with her children. She wanted something about sisters and brothers. Wow, I thought. You really don't want my unfiltered thoughts about family. So I went with something more observational.
"Some people are not nice people."
The truism tripped forth
And fell before us
Redfaced and sprawling
Bulge-eyed and fierce
And so-sure certain
That you aren't one of those people
And I'm not one of those people
And most of those, here
Silent listening judging
Are not those people.
But not all of them.
And everyone scans the others


Another stretch-piece. From the above overheard line while waiting for customers at the spontaneous poetry event.
The tractor blade sweeps
Through the slow afternoon light
The grass wet irridescent
Gleaming in the wake of
A brief early burst of
Snow or rain or sleet
Neither the season nor
The weather determinate
Golden light streams over
Bruised skies over
The dying leaves over
The last green lawn of the year.


One of two practice-pieces written as a warm-up for the spontaneous poetry thing at First Night. This one was from the words "irridescent, tractor, wet". You can really tell my sad inclination for seasonal poetry. No customer, just an example start-set mentioned by another poet.

Monday, January 05, 2004

New blog from an Arab-American CA (Civil Affairs) soldier in Iraq: Iraq 2.0. He's kind of irate about Halliburton, and calls the CPA "Can't Produce Anything", but is very big on the Iraq project.

Via Jeff Jarvis, everyone's favorite World-blog enthusiast.

Kids, you tried your best, and failed miserably... The lesson is, NEVER TRY.

I found Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age very informative, so when I saw he had written something called The Long Summer, I couldn't resist. It's a coarse-grain discussion of Fagan's climatological determinist ideas about how cultures develop and die, covering, roughly, the periods of the Late Ice Age and the present Holocene, the "Long Summer" of the book's title.

It was much less obvious in the last book than this one, but Fagan has a big rage on about civilization. He's very, very concerned about the possibility of a climatological catastrophe, and the "vulnerability" of the global civilization. That was clear enough in The Little Ice Age, but in The Long Summer that concern has become a didactic hammer with which he will pummel every skull within arm's reach. Every culture that could be dignified with the appellation "civilization" is properly labeled "vulnerable" or "precarious", usually both, in exactly those terms. Non-literate agrarian cultures get a half-pass on account of their inability to tell us directly of their agony, but it's only non-literate, non-sedentary hunter-gatherers and nomads that earn the gold star in Fagan's moral climatology: "effortless". When somewhat sedentary cultures like the Middle-Eastern Natufians harvest gazelle herds in job lots:

The hunters did not bother to harvest individual animals. Rather, they culled herds en masse, killing animals of all ages, including the youngest beasts, over a few weeks in early summer, when the gazelle moved north to the river valley in search of lush pasture. Sometimes they slaughtered entire herds.

However, when good, climatologically moral Cro-Magnons hunted in the same fashion, this is how Fagan describes the scene:

Judging from modern-day caribou hunts, the Cro-Magnons would let the leaders of the herd pass through the water unharmed, then set upon the animals behind them, harvesting beast after beast with effortless skill. The animals would rear and whirl in panic, bellowing, their dead companions floating downstream where other members of the hunting band hauled the carcasses into the shallows. Many would escape to the far bank, to regroup and continue their exorable march. But the hunters would cull dozens, even hundreds of beasts, butchering the carcasses with brisk efficiency on the riverbank.

Note the key-words "effortless" and "efficiency". Meanwhile, Cro-Magnons get work-words like "butcher" while the civilizing Natufians get value-words like "slaughter". The activity was the same. But the Cro-Magnons didn't threaten the landscape by being successful, by growing in population. They scraped along on a thin edge, in small, long-term stable numbers. The Natufians would eventually produce new agricultural technologies, grow, be forced off their lands by a climatic downturn, and then return as the first true farmers, and eventually, literate peoples. Bad. BAD.

This cycle of "nomad good, sedentary bad", "literate bad, oral tradition good" and "herd-following good, hunter-gathering OK, farming WICKED" continues throughout the book, at varying levels of emphasis and didactic force. Fagan doesn't recognize the added value to a culture of a social base of a hundred thousand over a social base of five thousand, and this bias expresses itself throughout the narrative. Risibly, literate cultures are portrayed as having "short generational memories" while the even-shorter, even-narrower cultural memories of oral-tradition cultures are ignored, or even lauded as sturdy and knowledgeable.

In my considered opinion, Fagan has fallen into the classic trap of disbelieving in things that he has no direct knowledge of. That is, literate cultures record exactly, within the same generation, the results of famine, disaster, chaos and terrain abandonment. Oral tradition cultures, swept away by the same or similar disasters, either leave no records due to the collapse of the story-telling chain, or else pretty up the story, in a very human attempt to consider their beloved ancestors in the very best of lights.

But Fagan even thumbs the scales when there is evidence, when he has the bloody evidence in front of him, but won't tell us. I didn't realize this for the better part of the book, due to my college-survey-course paucity of knowledge on the subject of pre-literate history. But I've seen stuff about the Anazasi collapse (which he insists on calling "Ancestral Pueblo" for political reasons he doesn't detail, but which I can guess), and it wasn't the calm and collected migration that he paints in such placid colors. It was a period of chaos, cannibalism, and slaughter like every other drought-and-famine collapse one might care to consider. It's exactly the same situation as the others which he details in such damning terms among literate cultures. But because the Anazasi, excuse me, "Ancestral Pueblo", were not literate, Fagan gives them a pass, and describes them in the most glowing terms he will offer for miserable, overpopulous farmers.

In short, Fagan displays in this book one of the worst cases of Cain-and-Abelism I've yet encountered in a scholarly work.

On the other hand, he does go over some climatological theories about the Holocene which I haven't encountered before, backing up his previously-mentioned worries about a collapse of the Gulf Current via a freshwater collapse of the northern ice cap. The examples he offers, however, are not sudden, world-wide meltings, as described in The Little Ice Age. Rather, he describes vast freshwater glacial lakes, formed on the edge of glacial plates over long periods of time, which eventually cut through the edge of the icepack in a catastrophic flood that creates the freshwater pool in necessary to shut down the North Atlantic Conveyor. This is not a subtle series of events, difficult to discern, or fast-moving. The glacial lakes he describes are not something the formation thereof would escape modern detection. That isn't currently happening. Nor are there any other threatened inundations, such as the Euxine Lake disaster, currently pending. These actually seem to weaken his case for impending doom.

All in all, a very infuriating book, but it has enough detail, and I'm disinclined enough to take any of it as gospel word, that I don't regret reading it.
Came in this morning to find mousetraps spread about the office like a minefield of toepoppers. I'm told that they caught four mice on Saturday, so the boss, in his usual overkill way, went and tripled the number of traps. There's an array of six traps around the wiring bundles in the old systems room, presumably on the theory that the mice are getting in through that big hole in the floor around the wiring. I fully expect somebody to break a toe on one of these things sometime this week...

No, none of the mice survived. Plague is starting to look pretty damn lucky.

Friday, January 02, 2004

OK, this is something different. Somebody decided to start posting Samuel Pepys' famous diary as a blog - with entries falling on the same day as when they were written 343 years ago. Hrm, I wonder if that's according to the Julian or Gregorian calendar? England ran on the Julian calendar until 1752, centuries after the rest of Europe. The entries are heavily hypertexted - I haven't explored those yet.

But Pepys has already appeared on at least one "best blogs of the year" list.
Speeches by Michael Crichton have been making the rounds in the blogspheres, including this one about how he considers global-warming orthodoxy a religion, and this one about how he blames SETI and the Drake Equation. Now, I'm inclined to mildly agree that global-warming orthodoxy sets off my bullshit alarms, so I didn't talk about the subject when the first Crichton speech seeped through the blogspheres. But there are other things that set off my bullshit alarms, and among those things I must now include this second speech, blaming SETI and extraterrestrial-optimism for a pseudoscientific mindset that contributes to cryptoreligious dogma on subjects like climatology.

Mind you, Crichton's not saying that flying-saucer, alien-abduction cultism is to blame. He's blaming the SETI project and the "Drake Equation" in particular. He noticed that the Drake Equation isn't exactly rigorous - it's more a way of organizing our notions of the possible possibilities on the subject of extraterrestrial life and intelligence - and decided to blow rather volcanically up about it. Crichton apparently believes that nearly forty years of negative results is proof that the Drake Equation is unfalsifiable. He also seems to think that negative results are also evidence of wasted effort. For a writer to be so excited about falsifiable hypotheses, while so damning of an ongoing experiment with negative data suitable for eventual falsification of said hypothesis, is somewhat inexplicable.

Of course, the fact that Crichton is in no sense a scientist might have something to do with this. I sort of want to agree with his dismissal of chicken-little climatology, but the man makes it damn hard...
Dave Merrill is, among many other things, the Anime Weekend Atlanta conrunner who achieved satanic status in fandom by proposing the elimination of the cosplay/masquerade in less-than-diplomatic language. He used to write a column for an online Georgia webzine called Athenstown; when that gig ended, AnimeJump put up his archive and gave him a place for his intermittent columns. His latest column talks about the sudden deluge of "How To Draw Manga" artbooks in the direct market, and touches a bit on why that's a damn silly notion, rather along the same lines as "How To Write Russian Novels" or "How To Make Iranian Movies".

Meanwhile, on the rest of AnimeJump, Mike Toole has inspired me to go buy Interstella 5555, which is saying something. I was almost certain that the prolonged intersection of French synthpop and Leiji Matsumoto would drive me nuts, but Toole's description has me interested....
I ended up doing mostly poetry-group stuff for First Night. Took off work early, and helped with the "Spontaneous Poetry" thing. Basically, volunteer poets sat around a storefront (which used to house Allen Street Video and nowadays holds the county Democratic Party when they're doing anything), and wait for people to come in and demand a poem based on some sort of concept, phrase, or set of words. They were supposed to donate a dollar per poem to the charity du jour, which I think was the Women's Resource Center. One poet went outside to play barker, as there wasn't much spontaneous demand for spontaneous poetry. Mostly foot-traffic of people walking back and forth from the Allen Street ice sculpture displays to the various stuff going on in the new borough building and Central Parklet. I've got my notes from the spontaneous poetry - the finished versions went with the donors - and I might polish them up and post them later today. Some of them aren't totally horrible.

They had organized a "Burning Man", to which we were supposed to attach resolutions or regrets, which would be burnt along with the "Burning Man" doll itself about an hour before midnight. I only found out later that the winds were too high at the appointed time, and they snuck the "Burning Man" doll, regrets and resolutions entire, out the back exit of the borough building. Very disappointing. They had a variant on this concept, with a pile of split logs next to perforated-drum fires in Central Parklet. There were sharpies on a table in between, and you'd write your regrets on the log, and toss it into the drumfires. I did this to make up for the "Burning Man" fizzle, so my regrets got burnt anyways. The log-tossing kicked up a cloud of sparks that put out the crowd huddled around the fires for warmth, so now I've got a brand new regret for next year!

The poetry slam went off, and it was actually something of a roaring success. I read "The Book of cummings", which was an obnoxious thing to do - especially when Dora came along after the first round and read the exact e.e. cummings passage which that poem took issue with. Seventeen poets in the first round. Not bad. I didn't make it to the second round, of course, but I didn't stutter or otherwise embarrass myself. My favorite of the other poets was an older woman who read a nice Robert Frost-esque piece about abandoned houses along a river road. She made it into the second round, but the third round was dominated by young whippersnappers with young themes.