Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Oh, for the love of Zod... George RR Martin finally finished A Feast of Crows - delayed since 2002 - but only by dicing it into character-arcs, dividing them into two piles, and publishing the ones that are finished. Not cutting the *story* in half - literally telling half of the characters' stories. Sounds like he's doing it geographically, which means that we aren't going to get our Arya, Tyrion, and Daernys fixes until Martin finishes the orphaned half, which inherits the title Dance of Dragons, which was supposed to be the title of the *next* book. The Song of Ice and Fire is going to at least seven volumes, assuming that Martin can get his narrative under control, since each previous volume has been bigger than the last.

Almost two weeks after I cancelled my four-years-old pre-order with Amazon for the book, too. Damnit.

Via Professor Bainbridge, who is rapidly turning into my go-to guy on fiction. He isn't a book-blogger, but the stuff he mentions is invariably important.
You know, it's conversations like the one onJames Nicoll's livejournal that inspired my slow drift out of organized SF fandom. So much bile, so much dogmatism, so much elitist bile directed at the populist dogmatism of others, so much naked contempt. It's all so... miserable. I'm miserable enough on my own, thank you very much. One of the essentially good things about anime and manga fandom is that all of the innate optimism and sunny good-naturedness of the younger fan hasn't yet been washed out in the inevitable flood of the noxious output of the aging, irate, and defeated.

And manifestos are pure poison. What the hell is dogma, but the accumulation of successful manifesto-mongering? If I wanted dogma, I'd join the Catholic Church.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hmm. Fifth Corps, is it? Wonder if they were lying about the message being from Barnes, or if it was a division commander passing the rumor? Here's another source dealing with the same brigade which describes a staff officer sitting a horse along the Fifth Corps' line of march, retailing the story to each colonel as they passed. The site author's footnote links are broken, sorry about that.

Here's Henry Hunt who notes that he first heard the rumor on Culp's Hill, and was of the opinion that it had originated with the Fifth Corps the night before. Here's another source from Vincent's Brigade, 16th Michigan.

There had been a previous rumor in Second Corps on or about June 28th, according to William Lochren of the 1st Minnesota. This rumor apparently also swept through Third Corps on the same day, to judge from this account from the 4th Maine of Ward's Brigade. With the limited resources of Google, I'd guess that the post-Hooker-demotion rumors of June 28th had inspired the unnamed staff officers of Fifth Corps to spread false news during the forced march of July 1st for the purposes of morale. Webb's invention of an independent force under McClellan in the enemy rear on July 3rd would seem to be third iteration of this rumor, designed to steady his brigade when the sounds of fighting in their right rear broke out - from Culp's Hill, not that Webb or anybody else in his brigade would know what it signified.
Dimitri Rotov at CWBN is the organizer and prime mover of the McClellan Society. He's also a strong opponent of the use of narrative and archetypes in history, particularly Civil War history - see this recent post, for a representative sample. His point of view is useful and, in the abstract, a welcome palliative for the strain of lightweight historical writing which sometimes seems indistinguishable from historical fiction like the Killer Angels. But he seems to be getting into some interesting territory with his recent "McClellan at Gettysburg" thoughts.

The "McClellan at Gettysburg" meme is an interesting and broad set of stories and reports from various primary and semi-primary sources about the apparent attempt by numerous and unnamed staff officers of the Army of the Potomac to convince the lower ranks that McClellan had been sent to take command of the Army on the eve of Gettysburg, or that he had been given an independent command operating on the line of communications of the enemy. Essentially, these unnamed officers were trying to replicate the miracle of McClellan's storied review of the troops in early September 1862 on the eve of a previous battle above the Potomac, to catch the battered troops' tinder ablaze with that old McClellan fire one more time. They were all lies, McClellan was administration poison, and was no more near command than he would be the next year, or the next. But the staff officers told their lies, that's certain - the evidence is apparently all over the sources, especially Irish regimental histories. The story even showed up in Bruce Catton's Glory Road, which must have been where I'd heard of it before, because when Dimitri mentioned the story, it struck me like deja vu.

McClellan's Civil War career is badly tangled up with the issue of narrative, and archetype. There's a basic contradiction or dichotomy, as I understand it, between the contemporary *idea* of McClellan, and the man himself. McClellan came to the capital at a moment of vulnerability and weakness, and his position was set in a certain sense by his signatory potential. McClellan himself seemed to be oddly taken with the idea at first - the notion of himself as that Napoleonic Man on a Horse. There's that unfortunate August 1861 letter where he mulled in an almost giddy fashion about how much power he was being given, and explicitly talks about how he could be a dictator. Talking with Jeffrey Wert earlier this month, he noted that he could think much better of McClellan if not for his unfortunate letters. I can see what he meant by that - the accomplishments are distorted by the McClellan's own private bombast. Self-regard tends to poison the sympathies of the audience.

But those were private sentiments, and private letters, and that wasn't what was seen and known by the troops. What they saw was the symbol, the archetype of McClellan - the same idea-made-flesh which led the man himself astray in his private musings. McClellan was their token of victory. He was their confidence, in a way that no other commander could be. Long after he had wrecked himself on the shoals of his own political ineptitude, his officers still tried to conjure victory with his shade, with rumors of the return of the Man on a Horse. In effect, the Return of McClellan was the preferred narrative of these unnamed officers of the Army of the Potomac. Where the Lost Cause writers wrote tragedies of inevitable defeat, and the Centennials penned romances of Lincoln's quest for the General, the men on the ground, in the moments before the butchery, told their road-burned regiments urgent lies of a Return of the King.

One of the core conceits of Nosworthy's Bloody Crucible of Courage is the centrality of psychology in infantry and cavalry tactics. The purpose of the bayonet charge, the sabre charge, the flank attack, the prepared assault - the purpose of all these military acts is to tell a story. To build an irresistible idea of your force in the mind of your enemy, and the idea of their own overwhelming power in the mind of your troops. The bayonet and the sabre are urgent tools of narration, and the narrative is one of bloody gutting death and slashing fury. It's no secret that actual bayonet and sabre wounds were exceedingly rare on the Civil War battlefield. Even so, even given the fact that the officers themselves knew of the rarity of actual contact in the bayonet charge or the sabre charge, they still continued to rely on it, throughout the war. The power of these weapons didn't lie in the actual infliction of death - as far as that goes, the rifle-butt was a more deadly weapon than the sword-bayonet. The power of the bayonet laid in the confidence it gave the user, and the fear it inflicted on the awaiting enemy. Their power laid in the story that could be told with them.

And this goes as well for the Man on the Horse, sitting tall in the saddle, his sword drawn and pointed for the attack. He was a narrational tool, a weapon of morale. As much or more than the regimental flags, the right to hold same in a state of total defenselessness being an honor for which men competed , and quite often, died, the role of the Man on the Horse embodied the confidence of the troops. Consider the tale of General Patrick Cleburne, charging the Union fortifications before Franklin with his men, dying with his horse on the battlements themselves - or consider Hancock on his horse behind the troops on the Cemetery Ridge awaiting Pickett's charge. The Man on the Horse was a story of power and resolution.

An interesting question along this line of thought is what should we make of Lee's repeated attempts to use this narrative to rally defeated troops, after Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, and in the Wilderness the next spring in Hill's rout. What does it mean that the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia refused to let their commander perform this act of suicidal narration, and took heart from the refrain of "Lee to the rear"? Was it a late-war artifact of the many, many Confederate commanders wounded or killed in the role of the Man on a Horse - A.S. Johnston at Shiloh, Jackson at Chancellorsville, Joe Johnston's wounding at Fair Oaks?

In any case, many men died while playing the role of the Man on the Horse. One could see why the staff officers of the Army of the Potomac thought it safer to conjure a phantasmorphic Man on the Horse who couldn't be shot, couldn't be brought down, an imagined pageant of confidence and victory which couldn't be disrupted by canister or rifle-fire.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I play around a lot with Amazon's recommendations wizard. It's kind of fun to see what comes up as I click through the owned and not-interested options. But it's kind of irritating that they don't have a "read but not bought" option. I mean, I've read Coddington's book on the Gettysburg campaign, but it was a library loan. As I get older and (relatively)richer and most importantly, more forgetful, this particular category has dramatically shrunk to the point of irrelevance, but still and all - what should I do, lie and claim that I have a copy of every library volume I've ever read?

Put down the dosh for Ness's volume on field fortifications. Looks interesting. But this is getting as expensive as a powder cocaine habit. It's eating up the money I used to spend on anime DVDs...
I don't much like Steve Sailor's politics or policy arguments, but I surely do respect his research.

He makes a pretty good case for a "Dirt Gap" - that the availability of land for suburban development drives political trends via housing costs. It makes me wonder if Houston and New Orleans are trending Democratic, if his theory is right. Doesn't *look* like it - Austin was more blue than Houston in the last election, although New Orleans is definitely an island of deep purple. In Austin/Houston's case, the difference is driven culturally - Austin is a countercultural exception to the Texas case, even though it's totally and comprehensively land-locked. Pittsburgh's another counter-case - the three rivers hardly take up enough land to affect land availability, although the steepness of Pittsburgh's many, many canyon-walls does significantly reduce the available real estate stock.

But the "Black belt" of Mississippi and Alabama cuts right across the area of cheapest housing in the country. A lot of Sailor's formulations carefully use the term "non-Hispanic white" to exclude distorting factors from his argument.

Link via Mickey Kaus.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dimitri Rotov commented on my encounter with G.A. Townshend and about bad preservation choices in general. It's one of his longer-running themes, as he's pretty active on preservation issues.

About Gathland in particular, Tim Reese noted that he had written an article about that a few years ago in Maryland Historical Magazine, now out of print. Hrm. A googlesearch reveals another article by him discussing the monument here at HNN.
Tim Reese, a local expert on Crampton's Gap and South Mountain, wrote me about Monday's post:
It's always illuminating to see "my backyard" through fresh eyes, however erroneous. Pardon me while I kibbutz a bit, well maybe a lot. (Next time print out a copy of the regional map)

The pass through which I-70 and US Rt. 40 crisscross is called Hamburg Pass, roughly three miles above Turner's Gap, so oddly named for the former community of that name situated atop Catoctin Mountain. It's all about destination. Alternate Rt. 40 (40A) runs through Turner's, also known as the Old National Turnpike. Clear as mud, right? Legions get lost every year.

Heh. I figured this out *after* I found myself in Funkstown without having crossed anything resembling Turner's Gap. I was driving without a map in hand, BTW. I tend to do this an awful lot, as I've got a good memory for geography. This means that I rarely get lost, but as a result I often have trouble finding the exact spot I'm looking for without the aid of maps.

Regarding your assessment of Bartlett's battle, you definitely need a guide... And I might add that CG is the most conspicuous notch in SM. See here. I'll spare you a dreary lecture on topographical differentiation between gaps and passes.

[Well, this was definitely a challenge, so I went and googled the difference. This source seems to suggest that the difference between gap and pass is regional, with the Western definition making a distinction based on whether the feature occurs on a watershed, or whether it was cut by water, and thus both sides are in the same watershed. Thus, by this Colorado-area definition, none of the gaps in South Mountain are technically gaps, but are rather "passes". Of course, the source goes on to say that by this definition, not even the Cumberland Gap is, technically, a gap, so clearly we're working from differing dictionaries... I can't find any other online source that makes an alternative distinction between the two terms which makes sense of how we use it up here in Appalachia.]

Now that I've pulled out my copy of TopoUSA, I can see that my reading of the Burkittsville area was pretty off. And you can get a weird impression of topography, driving country roads while trying to keep both eyes on the road. Frankly, I've read more about Turner's Gap than Crampton's, so I'm not at all surprised that I got the battle wrong.

I traverse the Harpers Ferry-Sharpsburg road as a matter of routine. It runs right by the Kennedy farmhouse where John Brown laid his plans and stockpiled arms. Like I said, you need a guide.

[It was getting dark at the time, and I had just come close to grounding out my little Korean subcompact on a railroad access road in Harper's Ferry. I figured it was there somewhere, but I really needed to be getting back home. As it was, I got home after 1 AM.]

He went on to comment:
My ulterior motive is to re-insert CG [Crampton's Gap] back into the campaign mix where it rightly belongs.

The main reason I was down there was that I had an empty car, and thus no-one to irritate with my rubbernecking, and - more importantly - no-one to leave bored, confused, and restless in the car while I toodled around some scrap of midatlantic farmland or nondescript woodlot doing God knows what from their uninterested point of view.

To be honest, all I had time for last weekend was driving from gap to gap and looking at the many, many signs. I tried bushwacking around Turner's Gap, but all I found was a bunch of campers a couple hundred yards south of the Inn.

Tim is a tour guide for that area; I might try getting together a group one of these days if I can find anyone interested locally.
Holy shit! Remember the problem with East Asia's unbalanced male-to-female ratio? Some bright new spark has done some pretty heavy-grade data mining to make the argument that at least half of the imbalance is historically due to patterns of Hepatitis B infection, which apparently has a significant effect on how many girl babies are brought to term on infected mothers.

I don't know that it changes the immediate demographics - the damage is done, and they aren't going to bring back lost women to generations already born - but widespread Hepatitis B vaccination may correct the situation in generations yet to be born. On the other hand, as is pointed out in the above article, this only accounts for half of the effect, and it's possible that the horrible social and cultural practices and attitudes probably responsible for the balance of the gender deficit will just kick into overdrive, and ramp up the infanticide machine to eliminate the potential women restored by the hypothetical removal of the Hepatitis B factor.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Made a day-trip of it after Saturday's con meeting wrapped up early, outside of Baltimore. Took a wander westwards through Carroll & Frederick Counties and points west. Drove through Boonsboro, Burkittsville, Harper's Ferry, and the drearier modern stretches of Martinsburg. Well, that was on the way - the goal was the passes of South Mountain, which I have read enough about, but never seen with my own eyes.

The big battlefields are much easier to get to than South Mountain - lots of signs, major highways, maps and all. For the longest time, I thought the point at which I-70 crossed the mountain was Turner's Gap - not so. In fact, the first run I made at Turner's Gap on Saturday, I missed it - the map I had been working from said Rt. 40, but another road to the north of that older road had been re-designated Rt. 40 since the map in question was made. I ended up in the outskirts of Hagarstown before I was sure of my mistake. I almost gave up, but I found a newer map and made my way back to Turner's Gap from the west.

The terrain is a lot more heavily forested than I suspect it was back in 1862. This might have something to do with the fact that the Appalachian trail runs along South Mountain, and the area's primary usage as camping/backpacking terrain causes something of tendency towards greenery and forest rather than pure preservation. I didn't find the place where D.H. Hill would have seen the marching columns of the Army of the Potomac advancing on his command "as terrible as a army with banners". What I did find was an out-of-period neo-Gothic church squatting in the gap, just east of the inn which was actually there in the fall of 1862. The church, according to the plaque, was put up by Admiral Dahlgren, the man who invented the naval cannon of the same name. I went on a sickening, wandering drive around the back-roads around the gap, trying to get a feel for the terrain. Found the Reno Monument after a few missteps. Fox Gap is more open these days, due to a farmer's field. You could almost see a battlefield, here.

Finally, I drove through Burkittsville, looking for Crampton's Gap. The town thoughtfully presents a pretty big marker for the Gap, sitting as it does right in front of the pass through the mountain. Burkittsville is better-known as the much put-upon location of the Blair Witch Project, which I hear the townsfolk are none too pleased about. On my brief wander through the town, I spotted a guy standing on the stoop of a general store dressed like a doctor or surgeon, circa 1862. Not sure if he was re-enacting, or just always dressed that way. At the top of the pass was another surprise.

At the top of Crampton's Gap is an enormous, anachronistic monument in redstone and bombast to "War Correspondents". Apparently a hack named G.A. Townshend bought the Gap long after the war, and built "Gathland" up there, crowning his architectural vandalism with the three-story tall monument right in front of the last stand of Troup's Battery and Cobb's brigade. There are a lot of signs scattered around the Gap, and they're actually better than average, although they tend towards happytalk about Cobb's rout having saved the Army of Northern Virginia, instead of opening it up to division and defeat. As with Turner's Gap, the pass is heavily forested, and I can't see how the gunners of Troup's guns saw far enough to fire their last-stand canister at the described 50 paces, let alone the rest of the rounds described. You can't see much of anything.

Most of the actual battle took place at the foot of the mountain, along a farm road running in front of a number of stone walls described in the accounts. Some of the positions in front of those stone walls are quite militarily impressive, but the southern stretch strikes me as presenting a ripe potential for worthless plunging fire, and I can't imagine anyone holding it for long, let alone the small force which actually held the position. It runs for more than a mile, and unless they were strung out like skirmishers, Franklin's two divisions should have easily have flanked them quickly on both sides - especially given the two beautiful roads which led behind the defensive position on both sides, like a funnel.

Such a perfect prospect for a textbook double envelopment is rarely offered - it doesn't make me think much of Bartlett that he planned a direct frontal assault instead of quick-stepping columns of attack for the flanks. On the other hand, given Franklin's long delay in ordering the advance, the direct attack was pretty much required to give the assault any sort of urgency, and who knows - maybe the rest of Cobb's Brigade might have gotten into a decent position if Sixth Corps had screwed around trying for a full flanking movement against the force at the foot of the hill.

Once the defenders of the pass broke, they were pretty much screwed, in much the same way as the defenders of Missionary Ridge were when *they* were driven from their strong position at the base of that mountain. The problem with putting defenders at the foot of a steep hill, is that if they're driven back, they've got as big of a hike in retreat as the enemy does in pursuit, and they won't be worth spit by the time they reach the top of the slope, assuming any of them make it. The force that gave battle at the top of the gap hadn't been involved in the rout at the foot of the mountain - they were reinforcements coming up from Pleasant Valley.

Oh, BTW - I should correct an impression given by the name "Crampton's Gap" - it isn't much of a pass. It isn't a water-gap or anything like that, more like a slight dip in the mountain where two roads meet after climbing up the north and south slopes of the east side of the mountain. Crampton's Gap was important because of the roads, not because of its nominal "gap"ness.

Afterwards, I drove down Pleasant Valley, which upon inspection was quite the trap for McLaws and Anderson once Crampton's was forced. Even today, the position to the west of Crampton's totally dominates the narrow valley, making a breakout attempt in that direction impossible given any sort of force in position, assuming they thought to bring artillery. I tried to find the road that supposedly runs from Harper's Ferry to Sharpsburg on the other side of Maryland Heights, but the only bridge over that side of the town is a railroad, so no joy. I'll have to take the writers' word for its existence. Harper's Ferry was jumping on Saturday evening - I wonder if there was something going on, or if it's always that busy?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Saw a copy of a Cheeky Angel volume sitting in the cutout bins when i went in to the Comic Swap yesterday. That's a bad sign.

Bought that PVPonline compilation, the Dork Ages, mostly as filler. If there was ever an artist who ought to be working in the smaller manga-style page format, it's Scott Kurtz. He uses a cartoony style with few, economical lines. He's coming out of the newspaper comic-strip tradition. He doesn't *need* a big comic-book-style page layout. It detracts from the presentation, in fact, to blast his compositions up to that page-size. As for the content... mostly OK, but he needs to stay away from anime/manga/Japanese parody. He's not very good at it, and it's outside of his stylistic tradition. It didn't work, and felt like audience-abuse.

I finished the Nosworthy book the other day. His conclusions can be summed up as "Dimitri Rotov, distilled". No wonder Dimitri loved it so much. Personally, I'm a little suspicious of his conclusions in regards to infantry firefight ranges and lethality calculations. He hangs an awful lot of speculation on that single Mexican-American War lead-to-casualty datapoint. If that falls through on closer examination, then his overall data definitely supports higher lethality for the rifled-musket combat of the Civil War.

Nosworthy kind of pooh-poohs the increase in average firefight ranges from 90-some yards with smoothbore muskets to 140-some yards with the rifle-muskets. This is still an increase of more than half. Even these days, with laser-targeting and all the advantages of technology, firefight ranges average under 400 yards. (I thought I had seen some material on that, but I can't find it this morning...) This whole line of revisionism on infantry fire strikes me as likely to quickly get stuck in a cycle of the revisionists and counter-revisionists talking past each other, playing blind-men-and-the-elephant with the data.

Kind of wish he had dropped the sections on ironclads from the book. the Bloody Crucible of Courage has the feel of a number of monographs and papers bundled together without much attention paid to the connecting material. Kind of like this post. The sections on cavalry, however, are pretty interesting, though I'm not exactly sold on the idea that the late-war sabre blustering of cavalry instructions and doctrine represent anything more tangible than the bravado of aggressive display of leadership.

He had a lot of striking things to say about Jomini, about whom I may have been entertaining mistaken ideas. Namely, that Jomini represented a conservative, indeed, reactionary interpretation of Napoleonic warfare, with more in common with pre-Revolution linear tactics than the articulated, flexible innovations of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic French armies. His sections on European technological and tactical innovations are very useful, and put a dynamic face on the pre-War doctrine which I had viewed as a set, unmoving mass previously. That is, Nosworthy makes an excellent case that the ten years before the war were a period of rapid swings of doctrine and churning ideas about tactics, and that the equipment and tactics eventually used were a late-period reactionary upsurge of quite recent vintage, born of the French disillusion with the performance of the new technology and innovations in fire tactics during the 1859 war with Austria.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Dave got me back on watching Yawara again over the weekend. That show just keeps getting stranger the more often I watch it. For one thing, they don't make these sorts of multi-season sports anime much anymore. Hajime no Ippo (or whatever the hell it is they re-named it for the US release - Fighting Spirit or some damned thing, I think) is one of the few recent examples; I suppose you could count Hikaru no Go if you consider sitting around a go table with a phatasmorphic emotional five-year-old of a mentor a "sport". But the long-winded semi-serious semi-comedic multi-year non-fantastic anime is pretty much archaic at this point - they've been replaced by kids' collector-anime, ninjabait and dogboy dung.

Yawara is kind of strange even for a multi-year, semi-realistic sports anime. These things are almost always paced like shounen manga - the protagonist comes in as a gifted, total neophyte, gets inspired, gets beat about, learns a bit, gets beat about until s/he learns some more, lather rinse repeat. They're celebrations of accomplishment, of the can-do spirit. The main point is the rigid, repeated arcs of ignorance, trial, tribulation, and accomplishment. Both Hajime no Ippo and Hikaru no Go follow this formula religiously.

Yawara doesn't. When we meet our girl, she can already beat the hell out of most of the world. Her judo-god grandfather has been training her secretly and obsessively since she was three years old. The judo competitive world is portrayed as degenerate and feeble, and our Yawara is a god among men. Her mad little dwarf of a grandfather is crafting her as an object lesson upon the heathen judo world, which has fallen from the true faith. When we first meet Yawara, there's probably about five people in the world who are capable of even competing on a level playing field with her. She doesn't really have an accomplishment arc to work through - she is the finished product. Which is why she has almost no interest whatsoever in fulfilling her grandpa-given goal in life, going to the Barcelona Olympics and setting the judo world on fire.

Yawara wants to be a housewife. She's got a monster crush on a cute college boy, she wants to go to a two-year women's college and major in home economics, she goofs off with her girlfriends. Her aspiration is, in short, to be a empty-headed schoolgirl. She does her very best to be an average idiot. But the world, in the form of an obsessive sports reporter at a third-rate Tokyo daily, figures out what she actually is - a sports god in the making - and conspires with her evil-genius of a grandfather to force her into the fulfillment of her destiny.

We're put mostly in the position of the reporter, Matsuda, in that we're expecting a sports anime, and he's desperately searching for his hero, his champion. But it's repeatedly drilled into our understanding of Yawara's character that there's just not that much in judo for her. It's too easy for her. There's literally no-one in Japan who can compete with her to the extent of actually making it fun, excepting possibly her aging, unhinged grandfather. We go more than twenty episodes before somebody challenging shows up. It's a sports anime, but the narrative falls over and dies everytime the nominal central sport takes central stages. There's a line in the ADV translation of the first volume of Princess Tutu, something to the effect of "Those who accept destiny, find happiness; those who fight destiny, seize glory!" Yawara's happiness/glory algorithm is inverted - she's literally destined for athletic godhood; her glory is in trying to be small.
Came in this morning to an avalanche of what looks like German neo-Nazi political spam cut with the usual array of garbage. It's confusing my spam filters. No, I don't want to hear about Dresden or the horrible Turk, Adolf.

Reading Nosworthy's Bloody Crucible of Courage. Very interesting, but written in a very amateurish style - even more poorly edited and proofread than the Beatie - the author has peculiar and intense ideas about the use of the word "nonplussed" - and utilizes the single most annoying style of endnoting I have yet encountered. Instead of using the usual numbered superscripting, the endnotes are identified in the back of the book by the first three or so words of the paragraph to be noted, followed via ellipsis with the last three words or so. Deciphering which endnote goes with which paragraph is entirely too much of a puzzle for my purposes. Endnotes are supposed to clarify or cite, not confuse and occult.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Well, that was fun. History day judging is over; I think both the papers and the documentaries were better this year than last, at least on average. Jeffery Wert, the Civil War historian from Centre Hall, was one of the other judges I was working with yesterday, and we had a discussion about various CW writers and books in between the interviews with the students. He suggested I come to the next Civil War Roundtable meeting, and gave me the details - I think I will. There was a gentleman named Bruce Teeple who was talking about his research on bootleggers and moonshining in northcentral PA during prohibition, and a popular rogue named Farrington. He's working on a book, which sounds interesting - but a few years away from publication from what he was saying.

Went on a walk around campus before coming back. Campus continues to grow like a cancer. I got a closer look at those new residence halls on the east end of campus, and damned if I'm not tired of that slapdash applique-sheet style of fake-brickery. It looks like hell, and I can't help but think that the sheets are going to be peeling like tar-paper in twenty years.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Prof Bainbridge mentioned that Geena Davis is going to be starring as a female President of the United States in some sort of TV series next fall, and I pictured to myself a deranged bottle-blonde femme fatale who's prone to ambushing her press critics in the West Wing and snapping their pencil-necks like twigs.

Why yes, The Long Kiss Goodnight *was* on cable yesterday. That has got to be the worst movie I absolutely love. I mean, it's objectively terrible. Renny Harlin's summer-blockbuster incompetence knows few peers - he's right down there with Michael Bay and Ted Demme. In fact, I think I may be doing Demme and Bay a disservice by associating them with Harlin's ham-handed horridity. The movie is particularly peculiar when you realize that it was, essentially, Davis and Harlin's cinematic honeymoon. Harlin took a cute, gangly, girlish actress who made Andie McDowell seem butch by comparison, and dressed her up as a chain-smoking, murderous savage who sleeps with most of the male cast, then either kills or flings them from moving SUVs. It's great!

Shame he had to follow it up with Cutthroat Island, which was just plain bad, and had far too many explosions for a movie set in the seventeenth century. And not in a fun way, either.
Quiet weekend. There are posters all over Allegheny Street in Bellefonte advertising some sort of Travelling Death Carnival, and they're pretty damned scary posters, with scowling clowns, frightened children, and panicked horses. If they didn't have the relevant information plastered all over them, I'd suspect the posters of being ironical indie-band advertisements.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Those girls are gone now. But to those who believe, maybe, just maybe, some of them live in homes in countries nearby, or across the seas. Maybe the girls have memories of families in villages they can never speak about. Maybe they sometimes dream in languages they can no longer speak aloud. Maybe they were once Kurdish girls, too beautiful to kill.

Michael Yon is doing some sort of tour through Northern Iraq, I'm having difficulty figuring out how or why. He seems to be a freelance writer/journalist, with at least one book to his name. From the blurb on that book, he's ex-Special Forces.

I found Yon via Wretchard of the Belmont Club, who is currently back on blogspot until he hammers out the problems with his other site.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Pennsylvania primaries are coming up on May 17, if you haven't noticed the ripe crop of district attorney campaign signs all over the county - solely for the Republican candidates, mind you. Think it's a Republican county? For us idiot Democratic voters, it's a choice between assistant DA Karen Arnold and a Walker township lawyer named Erik Rutkowski who's apparently been supplementing his new practice with a part-time teamstering job. Geez, a choice between an experienced loon (Arnold apparently was a Kusinich elector last year) and a recently-arrived country lawyer. I *think* I'll vote for the hick over the hippie, but it's not much of a choice.

There don't seem to be any Democratic candidates for the Bellefonte borough offices. Wish I had known this before - I would have tried for a seat on the council or something, just for the experience of running for office. That, and I hate to see "no candidate" on the ballot. Maybe that's just a partial list or something. The Republicans don't seem to have a full slate either, not even for the tax collector, and I'm pretty sure that the borough has one - I just wrote out a cheque to her last month.

There's five Bellefonte School District candidates for four slots, which means we'll have an actual choice on this page. I'm thinking the new kid, Hope Boylston, is the odd woman out, given her habit of writing crankish letters to the Centre Daily Times.

Finally, there's a fairly substantial "Ballot Question", which I think is Commonwealthese for "referendum", asking if we want the state to borrow over six hundred million dollars for sundry environmental projects. I don't know about this one. I'm inclined to go with "no" on general principles - it's vague and expensive-sounding. I prefer my pork with better documentation, I think.
Ugh. I think the blogsphere is becoming a bad influence upon me. I just filled the margins of a fairly marginal paper with nasty comments about the kid's factual errors and goofier assertions. Luckily, I was using pencil, so I can probably erase the meaner bits. But really, if I can google your errors, you've got a problem with fact-checking.
We had an inventory for The Convention scheduled this Saturday coming up, where reps from the various departments would meet and empty out the storage pods to see what was left over from last year's event, and what needed to be replaced. Three people signed up, including me, and our logistics section head called it off, on the theory that three people wasn't nearly enough to get the job done in a single day. This trip would have been a six-hour drive for me; most of these people live within an hour or two of the storage pods. What the hell, people!

Pre-reg started, finally, late last week. This is the first year we've run with a membership cap - 22,000. They're running a real-time reverse-counter on the site. Since I'm running registration this year, I'm kind of concerned about how many at-doors we're going to see. There's a lot of theory floating around about what the new introduction of scarcity is going to do with the registration patterns. So far, we've got less than 20% of the cap pre-registered, but it's been less than a week, and you have to expect an initial rush as the people waiting for the online registration to open come pouring through.

The fewer slots left for at-door registration, the less we have to worry about cash-handling at registration. There'll still be merchandising and art show cash, so it isn't as if the treasury department can just shut down and go watch videos for the weekend, but still - the less cash, the less worry about the bad behavior that large amounts of cash tends to attract.

In previous years, we separated the at-door and pre-reg booths and lines in different lobbies. This tended to cause confusion in line-handling terms, and meant that the registration department was physically separated, and thus something of a managerial headache. Additionally, when throughput volume dropped after the Friday rush, we had to abandon the separate locations anyways, leaving the cattleshoots and booths cluttering up a central space in the middle of the convention centre for the rest of the weekend. A central space, I should add, which laid square across the flow-pattern leading into the dealers' room foyer for the past few years of operation. Now that they're expanding the dealers/industry area to include a secondary entrance *also* entering and exiting from the *other* stairwell in that lobby, you can see why I wanted my people out of the way. This is why I asked the guy doing the layouts and my section head to help registration move up into the big, half-empty, otherwise unused lobby that takes up half of the new section of the convention centre.

This will hopefully let me utilize the whole of our registration resources to clear the pre-regs in an intensive effort on Thursday night. Previously, we couldn't use the one-third of our booths which were stuck down in the main body of the convention centre, sitting idle until Friday morning. Now everything will be up in one single lobby, easily isolated from the inactive rest of the convention centre for the Thursday preregistration rush.

We're doubling the hired temps as well, so as to minimize the marathon demands on my registration staff. Historically, it's been hard to get people into registration, because it is, after all, something of an unrewarding at-con job. It's repetitive, relentless, stressful, and kind of boring. But somebody has to do it, and as we grew over the years, a whole lot of somebodies had to do it. I figured that peak staffing requirements for the set-up we're using will approach seventy, just counting registration needs. I don't control or staff the line people or the "special event staff" people (or whatever it is they're calling staff security these days), or even the tech ops and treasury staffers. Which reminds me, I have to talk to the new line control person. I can't figure out who it is from our table of organization. I'm clearly not reading it correctly...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Tim Reese, a local tour guide from the South Mountain area who's written a controversial, interesting-looking book on Crampton's Gap I'll have to look into one of these days when I have the time, has sent an email explaining that Mr. Harsh, although having planned to write a companion series of volumes on the summer 1862 "overland campaign" from the Union perspective, has suffered a debilitating stroke, and his plans have been curtailed by medical concerns. Both Mr. Reese and Dimitri Rotov have indicated that the projected trilogy is "in limbo". I'm very sorry to hear of Mr. Harsh's ill health, and wish him all the best.

Meanwhile, the History Day judging is coming up quickly, and I've got papers that I've got to be going over. This year's theme is "Communication in History: the Key to Understanding", and so far, it's produced an impressive tidal wave of Kennedy Administration papers.

Update: Dimitri Rotov's extensive commentary on Mr. Reese's book on the strategy of the Maryland campaign, High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective, is here. Dimitri Rotov's blog output is so prodigious that I had trouble finding the reference. Thanks to Mr. Reese for the pointer.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Finished Harsh's Taken at the Flood yesterday, which is less satisfying than I expected it to be, largely because it's apparently the second in a series of three [possibly four] intricately connected volumes Harsh has written about or around Lee's Maryland Campaign, or, as Harsh puts it, the culmination of Lee's "Overland Campaign". A good third of the endnotes in Taken at the Flood are pointers to sections of the third volume, Sounding the Shallows, which apparently is the companion "fiddling little details" volume, full of the technical mucking about Harsh excised from the main volume for reasons of time and space. (The first volume, Confederate Tide Rising, is apparently a general consideration of Lee's summer strategy, but I get the feeling from Taken at the Flood that you get the high points of Harsh's thoughts of the subject in the latter volume.)

Harsh was the big news a few years back on the newsgroups, but I haven't gotten around to reading all the new work until recently. The big controversies are, as always, about McClellan, not Lee, and since Harsh's focus in all of these volumes is on Lee, I didn't find it as illuminating as I had thought on that subject. Harsh promises in the text yet another companion volume on McClellan's side of the story, but if he's finished it, I haven't heard of yet, and neither has Amazon.

Harsh does a good job of correcting my impressions of the campaign, which I have to admit were largely constructed from a reading of Paisley's the Antetiam and Fredricksburg nearly ten years ago. He makes an aggressive argument for Lee's early-campaign strength, and against the traditional "a third of the ANV never crossed over into Maryland" narrative, although I'm not sure I buy his argument entirely. To a certain extent, I get the feeling that in the absence of evidence, he tends to credit Lee with greater knowledge of his own strength than is properly speaking warranted, given the evidence Harsh himself provides.

The most interesting thing I took from Taken at the Flood was Lee's disability throughout the campaign, having been incapacitated at Second Manassas in a fall from his horse, and confined to an ambulance up to the very evening before Sharpsburg. Such confinement would seem to my mind to limit Lee's ability to assess the conditions of his own forces, and to reduce his feeling for the tenor of the campaign.

Another thing I took away from Harsh's study is the opposite of what Harsh wanted to argue, which is Lee's rationality in strategy. Harsh makes the case that the Maryland campaign was the latest in a series of driving turning movements which characterized Lee's "Overland Campaign", and that Lee looked to fight another Second Manassas in the vicinity of Hagerstown. He makes a very good argument that, after a bad night on the 14th of September, Lee tried on three separate occasions to arrange for a northward movement out of the Sharpsburg position towards Hagerstown and the projected turning movement.

That is, he arranged his position at Sharpsburg, while waiting for the Harper's Ferry expedition to reunite with the defeated main column, in such a way as to allow a rapid debouchment towards the north; he ordered Jackson to organize a turning movement against the shaky Union right on the afternoon of the 17th in the same direction, and he evacuated the Sharpsburg battlefield on the evening of the 18th with the express purpose of moving the army via the fords back to Williamsport to return to his projected Hagerstown axis, and an immediate return to the open field in the Cumberland Valley. He only gave up on his extension of the overland campaign when the near-disaster at Shepardstown (where the Union vanguard managed to overrun the ANV's artillery reserve, and half the army had to deploy in order to restore the situation) revealed that his army was hopelessly shattered and in no condition to continue.

All three aggressive attempts were conducted after the reduction of Lee's army, by defeat, straggling, or whatever - of this Harsh is in agreement with everyone else. Now, either Lee was unaware of his army's infirmity, due to his own infirmity or the ANV's famed paucity of paperwork or for whatever reason, or else he was willing to continue to move in a violently aggressive fashion with a broken, shrunken army. No, more than willing - compelled. Harsh argues explicitly against the recent, revisionist notion of Lee as a beserker maniac, fanatically obsessed with the offensive. I have difficulty reconciling Harsh's insistence on this point when he implicitly contrasts Lee with the famously aggressive, remorseless Jackson, shocky and cowed, anxiously struggling for any way out of Lee's orders to find a way for that visionary turning attack around Hooker and Franklin's right on the afternoon of the 17th.

Harsh makes the case that Lee's driving relentlessness in the pursuit of his turning movements were the intellectual product of Lee's analysis of the strategic situation, that this wasn't instinctual or a product of character, but rather the result of pure reason applied to a desperate situation. Harsh's characterization of Lee's strategic behavior is "desperate" - he uses that term repeatedly, even in the discussion of the victorious flush in the period immediately after Second Manassas. I think that Harsh negects the intellectual component of beserkism, personally. Rationality itself can produce via the action of a strong will a condition which is practically indistinguishable from the thoughtless fury of the blue-dyed naked savage in the height of his rage. The difference between the fury of the Celt and Lee's mania for the turning left, is that when balked the Celt retreats with a celerity which matches the charge. Lee never broke for the rear, even when he should have. From the view-point of the soldier, Lee at Sharpsburg is an illustration of how purpose can become monstrous in the service of desperation.