Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dave Welsh of Precocious Curmudgeon has a review of the first issue of Shojo Beat which covers much of the ground I was intending to stomp on, so I suppose that takes care of that. I'd quibble with his evaluation of Kaze Hikaru and Godchild - I kind of liked the former, more so than the loligoth incoherency of the latter, anyways - and I'm not really sure where Baby and Me can go from the first volume.

He mentions the Cosmo-girly embarrassing aspects of the presentation, but he doesn't get into the heavy larding of girls-magazine rubbish *inside* the covers. If it never gets worse than what's contained in the first issue, I think I can tolerate it, but there are limits to what I'll take in the name of shoujo manga. I didn't mind buying the thing, but carrying it around under my arm in public was a tad bit deflating to my sense of intellectual superiority.

H/T to Irresponsible Pictures.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

OK, this is kind of unnerving. Rural Europe is depopulating at a faintly terrifying rate - like the High Plains abandonments, except we're talking about Central Europe. The American High Plains was always something of a wilderness - one of the last places to be settled, and never all that heavily. That article has European "environmentalists" fighting *against* reforestation. And the aging of the rural population... it echoes like one of Steven Vincent Benet's apocalyptic poems, like something in the Burning City. The one where the children stop being born...

Link from the Corner. I think Fred's head will explode when he finds out that Jonah Goldberg would agree with him on the wonderfulness of the re-introduction of wolf packs to returning wildernesses. Personally, I have too many generations of European peasantry in my past to relish the idea of wolves howling in the darkness outside my door...
Ah-ha! Omar over at Iraq the Model passed along a temporary fix. I had spotted the offending code in the source, but couldn't figure out where it was coming from.

Reading Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. Not bad.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Grr. There's nothing more irritating than when somebody gives you Public Land Survey System coordinates instead of proper descriptors like a crossroads or a town name or something like that. It's harder than you'd think to find proper references. As it is, I found myself digging up a random fish and wildlife survey map and counting off sections in the proper pattern until I found my site. In the middle of goddamn nowhere.
Trying to fix something here...

Damn. What happened to my template? I haven't done anything to it recently, I don't think...
Small Pink Mouse in the comments asked me about the manga I bought t' other week. Mostly, it was a lot of fourth and third volumes of this and that, but the two series I bought in their full current extent was Girl Got Game and Red River, two lesser shoujo titles. I got interested in both because of Big Dave - Girl Got Game because he had some Power! scanslations sitting around, and Red River because he was bugging me about the Viz edition.

Girl Got Game is TokyoPop's horribly clammy re-titling of a gender-farce originally called Power!, presumably in reference to the quickly-abandoned rivalry between our protagonist, Aizawa Kyo, and her romantic interest/dorm roommate, Eniwa Chiharu, over the position of power forward in their high-school basketball club. Kyo's deranged father decided he wanted his child to join the NBA, so he forged her paperwork to get her on one of the best high school male basketball teams in the country.

The premise is ludicrous, so thankfully the mangaka doesn't dwell on the subject too heavily, preferring a broad sex-farce tone instead. Despite the basketball team setting, this isn't a sports manga, and that's one of the few really good "tells" that this isn't shounen. I can't imagine that someone writing for a shounen publication would have been able to resist the easy drama of team competition. Instead, the basketball is portrayed as a physical activity, as athleticism abstracted.

The focus is on gender games. Kyo wanted to have a normal girly high school life, but she easily settles in to the grunting masculinity of high school dorm life. There's romance, in the form of roommate Eniwa and "dark" romantic interest Yuna, but as Kyo laments at one point, she was looking for a boyfriend and instead found herself "one half of a gay couple", at least in the sovereign opinion of school and club rumor. Generally, the manga keeps to a fairly light, broad, physically humorous tone, but the mangaka runs off the tracks in volume 6, and for a brief while we find ourselves in Mars territory, which is far too serious and violent for the subject matter. The series feels like it's gonna wrap up in the tenth volume, which is due Any Day Now.

Red River, published in Japan as Sky by the Red River: Anatolia Story, was the other series. It's a action-romance with fantastic overtones, in the general spirit of Fushigi Yuugi or Twelve Kingdoms, except the setting isn't generic-Imperial-Chinese, but rather the Middle East in the 16th century BCE, among the Hittites and their neighbors.

The protagonist, Yuri, is your typical Japanese high school girl, unless you count being stalked by phantosmorphic water-spirits which keep attacking her. Eventually an attack succeeds, and we find out that her tormenter is the queen of Hattusa, who wants Yuri for a human sacrifice, part of a black magic plot against the potential rivals to her infant son. Yuri escapes, is saved by one of those potential rivals, Prince Kail, and the intrigue is on.

It's fairly sexualized for this sort of thing - Yuri becomes Kail's concubine and is constantly getting raped away (in the old Roman, "Rape of the Sabines" sense of the word) - but it generally stays on the near side of the divide. There's probably more sex in Mars, although for that you have to accept that none of Yuri's many amorous abductors ever actually does anything. It's a bit of a stretch, admittedly.

The entertaining sections are the war-chapters, and there's a remarkable lot of them for a shoujo manga. Kail tells his armies that Yuri was sent through the sacred springs as an avatar of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, and she gets a good deal of butchery and derring-do in between the kidnappings and the intrigue. There's a lot of attention paid to how to reduce fortified cities, and the introduction of iron is shown to have been important not because of the superior weapons worked iron allowed, but rather that it made possible chariots sturdy enough to hold three warriors.

I rather like Red River, despite it's somewhat hackneyed romance-book instincts (there's actually a Bluebeard subplot!). It's good that I'm somewhat committed at this point, as I discovered on that trip to the used manga shop in Edgewater, NJ that it ran at least twenty-eight volumes in Japan. Oh, well. Something to look forward to, I suppose.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I'm back, not dead. Worked the con, SMOFed about, spent ungodly amounts on manga series I had planned on eventually buying. Got semi-lost in Jersey City trying to find a used manga store in Edgewater. Jersey City is a strange town. All of these isolated high-rises, surrounded by normal townhouses, smaller buildings, and so on. Looks vaguely like a Buck Rodgers episode. Missed the music video contest, which I kind of regret.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I ate lunch down in town yesterday, with my copy of Paradis's book on the 6th USCT, so I took a couple minutes to compare the muster rolls he reprinted in one of the appendices with the names listed on the memorial for the 6th USCT. I only found about half of the names on the memorial in the muster rolls. Lewis Mills, but not Edward Mills, and so on. I wonder what's up with that - are the extra names on the memorial a confusion of regiments, or are they instances of stolen valor, or pension fraud? This online muster roll for the company in question looks to be essentially similar, if in somewhat different order than the version reproduced by Paradis.

I'm not sure if the gentlemen on the Bellefonte memorial were living in Bellefonte prior to the war, or if some of them moved to town afterwards. I'd be more sure if a whole company had been organized from town, but the whole of the 6th USCT was recruited and organized just outside of Philadelphia, and individual recruits traveled there from as far as Buffalo, according to Paradis.
Ever make a post just because you're tired of staring at the last one?


I'm working a con this weekend. Why? Well, because I was asked, but mainly, to get away from the Bellefonte Cruise.

You'd think I'd be big on the Cruise, as I don't exactly hate my town, and it's a big tourist boon for the merchants and for the town fathers. The ads are all over basic cable, and people suddenly remember that there's a town down here at the bottom of the valley, at least for a weekend. You'd think that.

You don't live on the block where they hold the car radio contest. At all hours. Not to mention the late-night demonstrations of just how cool somebody's minimally-muffled classic car's engine is. And the loud band they have playing in front of the courthouse, that you can hear from one end of town to the other.

Not to mention the parking. I might as well not have a car on Cruise weekend, because the parking situation means I walk more than Johnny Appleseed.

Finally, I'm just not car people. I don't get excited about engines, and I can't tell a '67 Mustang from a '71 Mustang.

So, I'm going to New Jersey to work a convention. I could have just gone as an attendee. But this is the convention with the mean average attendee age of 15 and heading southwards. If I want to talk to anybody this weekend, they'll be on staff, and I might as well put some work in while I'm bugging them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hess's first volume of his work on field fortifications is positively drowning in narrative. He starts out in his introduction stating that he didn't want to write a technical book, and that he wanted to chart a middle course between popular and technical. At the time, I thought this was a laudable goal, as I wasn't sure how far into a truly technical discussion of field engineering I could get before putting it aside for easier goings. By the end of the eighth short campaign summary, I was more than ready for a little technical digression from the relentless march of story.

The first volume concentrates on the eastern campaigns prior to the Overland Campaign of 1864. That is, that period and theatre which is usually offered as a contrast to the trench warfare of 1864-1865 in the traditional narrative. Hess's thesis is that the emergence of hasty fortification in particular, and field fortification in general, was not a sudden or abrupt process, but rather the result of sustained military contact, modified by whether there had been any recent open-field Confederate victories in the period in question. He describes a process by which the Confederate successes against variously fortified positions during the Seven Days and the defensive victory of Jackson at Second Manassas in an unfortified position led the eastern armies to discount field fortifications, and favor open-field maneuver.

Hess has a number of fairly interesting, but highly narrational points to make. Firstly, he notes that post-battle entrenchment was far more common in the early war in the east than is generally noted. After outbursts of extreme violence and heavy casualties, the opposing armies tended to dig in until they were done recovering from the losses of the previous battle. Fredericksburg in particular is held up as an example. Hess claims that the fortification of the Confederate line prior to the battle has been exaggerated, and describes how much of the very extensive set of field fortifications behind Fredericksburg were constructed after the repulse at Marye's Heights.

Hess also argues that the conditional failure of extensive Union field fortifications around Chancellorsville and the storming of Early's position on Marye's Heights in the spring of 1863 caused another reversion to open-field tactics at Gettysburg, followed by another return to field fortification in response to the open-field butchery, and the success of hasty fortification on the Union flanks at Culp's Hill and Little Round Top. He goes on to describe the Bristoe Station/Rappahannock Station/Mine Run campaign, but rather neglects to note, in my opinion, how a Union open-field success (Bristoe Station) and a Confederate failure of fortification (Rappahannock Station) *failed* to produce the usual reversion to open-field battle, instead resulting in what he calls "trench gridlock" at Mine Run.

This is perhaps my biggest gripe with the book. He spent more than twenty pages discussing the Maryland campaign, which saw no field fortification of any significance, and wasted another significant chunk of prose on the similarly unfortified fighting of Second Manassas, chasing some vague notion about the substitution of terrain features - the railroad grade at Manassas, the sunken road at Sharpsburg - for field fortification. Meanwhile, the Mine Run campaign, which seems like it's probably the key period for understanding the late-war shift to hasty fortification operations, is given about the same amount of attention.

Although the book is supposedly about field fortifications, Hess still spends a good amount of time and attention siege operations and positional warfare in the Carolinas. These sections are interesting - I've never read much on the subject, and learned a good deal - but seem somewhat off the subject of field fortification. These are point defenses, where the infantry are in support of the engineers, rather than field army operations, where the engineers are in support of the infantry.

Overall, I'm torn over whether the work would have been better served by a topical organization, rather than the roughly narrational structure chosen by the author. I know I was bitching last month about Nosworthy's topical disjointment and uneven organization, but between the two works, I'm starting to lean in Nosworthy's direction, I fear.

On a style level, I have one complaint about Hess. He provides a glossary of engineering technical terms, which is useful because they're pretty technical and excessively French. But he defines "demilune", which I can figure out from context, but fails to define "lunette". I *thought* it was a detached or semi-detached circular artillery emplacement - but Hess doesn't tell me. The interweb helpfully informs me that it's a detached bastion, btw. He uses words like retrenchment without initial definitions - after a while, I figured out that retrenchment was the engineering equivalent of a refused flank. I think.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ugh. I've been resisting leaving work today. The dewpoint is off the scale, and the valley is choked with the hot Gulf air blown up by the failed hurricane. Almost enough to make one go out and buy air conditioning.
I was down in Maryland helping do inventory for the con on Saturday. Stayed over for the night, and drove back Sunday morning. Never, ever daydream on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the middle of the state. If you miss your exit - specifically, if you miss the Bedford exit going west - you will be ruing your inattention for more than thirty miles of mountainous, zero-access highway. I took directions from a local at a gas station somewhere outside of Somerset, and ended up *east* of Bedford before I found my way back on track. Massively irritating diversion.

I will say one thing for the unexpected side-trip. Route 30 on Mt. Ararat is one of the more striking roads I've ever driven. Exceedingly precipitous highway, hugging the side of a damned steep mountain-side for the better part of two miles. Set off my acrophobia something fierce.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Oh, and "Will" on alt.war.civil.usa was kind enough to provide a pdf link for Livermore's Numbers and Losses, which would eat up any remaining time and mind if I had either to spare.
An evil conspiracy of heavier work loads and the recent arrival of Campaign Peninsula have usurped my brainspace and posting-time. Somebody call Oliver Stone.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I got book-tagged by Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk:
Number of Books I Own:

Uh, somewhere between five hundred and a thousand, I think. I don't think I've ever counted. Enough so that I had guest comment about the mess in my apartment, although it was less of a disaster than another, mutual, friend's place.
Last Book I Bought:

I'm going to assume that means the last book I had delivered, as orders can hang fire forever and a day, as the A Feast of Crows example shows. That would be yesterday's delivery of Glen Cook's two new books, Whispering Nickel Idols (latest in his long series of fantasy detective novels, still going strong in that distinctive Chandler/Twain hardboiled tall-tale style of his), and the Tyranny of the Night (haven't looked at it yet). Also, a recently published regimental history of the 6th United States Colored Troops Regiment. Bellefonte was supposedly a "station" on the Underground Railroad before the war, and there were enough free blacks in the town during the Civil War to contribute about a dozen files to the 6th USCT, according to the big monument in front of the courthouse. The 6th USCT was apparently a pretty hard-fighting outfit - they were prominent in the bloody, exceptional repulse on New Market Heights - and I'm looking forward to reading that regimental history. But first I plan to finish reading the first volume of Ness's Field Fortifications and Field Armies in the Civil War...
Five Books that mean a lot to me:

Oh, geez. I'm always bad with this sort of question - it's more a matter of free-association than a rock-fast sort of thing, because I always end up riffing on whatever floats first to the top of the murky depths of my memory.

Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

I spent my first semester of college reading that beast on my own hook, lazing around Pollack Halls in the summer of 1990. Gibbon's insanely latinate and rambling style has permanently warped my own rhetoric, and ever since, my personal style has been better-suited to personal entertainment and display, than any serious project of persuasion. I still find myself trying to construct those intricate, convoluted, perfect blocks of prose, uninterrupted by the rude impositions of conclusive punctuation.

Orwell's Homage to Catalonia

I think I read this after gettting out of school, although my memory is, as I have said, murky and prone to inaccuracies on the subject of time and temporal relationships. Orwell's bitter picture of the anti-fascist revolution and the death of idealism suited my natural biases and habits of thought, so of course I embraced it unreservedly.

Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep

Possibly the best space opera ever written. It's one of those brilliant, pitch-perfect constructs where a tragic, galaxy-shaking naval space battle stretching across thousands of light-years is the B plot to the main issue. The early-Internet interstitial material has aged somewhat, but it still holds up as a whole. And I thought I ought to include one of the dozens of SF novels which I re-read on a semi-yearly basis in this list.

Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic

As a sort of banner-carrier for the piles and piles of Civil War history which are straining my cheap bookshelves to the breaking-point, I suppose Horwitz's American-heritage-as-a-foreign-country travelogue is the best-suited representative of this particular aspect of my reading habits.

Steven Vincent Benet's John Brown's Body

I could only wish I could write poetry as well as Benet; I re-read this epic poem every eight months or so since I discovered him some eight years ago. Benet took America seriously. Even more than Whitman, Benet *understood* America, with a fury of love and disappointment and untrammeled hope. One of the great tragedies of American literature is that Benet died before finishing Western Star, without much more than a proper beginning. It would have been wonderful.

I tag Jessica,Fred,Mark(good luck on the kidney transplant, BTW),Dimitri of CWBN and Bill of ideofact.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Speaking of yesterday's storms, we were quite startled to discover that Bellefonte has an extreme weather alarm, this harsh unmodulated siren which could be heard all the way up here in the Penn Eagle Industrial Park, some three miles out of town. I hear that they got a few microbursts doing damage somewhere in town, but I didn't see anything. Every time some extreme weather comes blowing up our way, the meteorologists go clustering out on the front porches to watch it roll in, and the rest of us generally come along to listen to the chatter. There was a lot of loose talk about tornado watches, yesterday, but nothing particularly concrete. We didn't even get any hail. Bah.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Believe it or not, but I find this draft constitution only slightly less obnoxious than the one voted down by the Dutch and French referenda of last week. While it enjoys the happy virtue of brevity so lacking in d’Estaing's late, unlamented phonebook, it does not escape that document's parallel vice of party partisanship. Constitutions are not party platforms. Whether your party's principles embrace free market reforms and neoliberalism, or a foolishly elitist brew of utopianism, socialism, transnationalism and social-justice imbecility, you still ought not to try to embed them into the governing document of a young nation. A constitution should be organized towards the goal of functional, reasonably responsive, moderately conservative governance. That is, the goal is the eventual institution of the will of the people, retarded and delayed in such a fashion as to discourage the installation of the temporary whims and sudden starts of either the people or the elite as the eternal bedrock law of the land.

Thus, a hypothetical constitution should neither establish the postive, enumerated rights of an eternal welfare state, nor enshrine the incommensurability of citizenship between the elements of a federation. I mean really, imagine if the Founding Fathers had extablished the nonresidency of citizens of Rhode Island in Pennsylvania, or South Carolina, or New York, in the founding document. We had enough problems with the South's unique notions of property, and arguing over the transferability of said property across state and territory lines. Imagine the situation if they'd have been laid on top of nontransferable citizenship.

H/T Peaktalk.
5. Organic melding of architecture and landscape allows for interlocking fields of fire.
An architectural review of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin with much attention paid to it's value or lack thereof as a defensive post during the great zombie apocalypse. Be sure to check out all the comments on the apocalyptic value of great architecture and World Heritage Sites in general.

H/T Pixy Misa.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

They're converting the old Corning-Asahi site into a mixed retail/housing development. The developers claim it's a "clean site", but I can't imagine that they spent however so many years manufacturing electronics and glassware without hosing down the land liberally with some sort of heavy metal contamination. If I had kids, I sure as hell wouldn't raise them on top of an old industrial site.

Of course, your modern farm plant is just as likely to be contaminated with pesticides and hydrocarbon sludge, if not more so. But with the local bias towards preserving farmland with greenbelt tax incentives, it's either woodland or old industrial/retail real estate. I'm kind of surprised they haven't built the Barrens up more heavily than they have, so far. I wonder why?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ha! Civil War Battles: Campaign Peninsula! I had pretty much played the heck out of Campaign Gettysburg. Good timing!

Yes, I'm aware the games are historical garbage, the engine produces unchallenging, plodding, tedious piffle, and the AI is retarded. It still scratches an itch I can't reach, otherwise.

And when I say I've played the heck out of Campaign Gettysburg, I mean I've been playing nonsense like the hypothetical Williamsport scenario. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever tried the full three-day historical scenario. I've got the old Battlefield: Gettysburg sitting around here, somewhere. I can't imagine the new version was all that different. I *had* been trying to find a real South Mountain 1863 scenario variant, but I kept hitting scenarios on the Sharpsburg-Williamsport-Hagarstown axis.

Campaign Gettysburg has something like eight hundred and fifty scenarios, most of them being dozens of indistinguishable variants on twenty or so general concepts, most of them huge and ungainly. Campaign Peninsula is supposed to have only 128 scenarios, which should cut down some on the bloat. It's just Seven Pines through Malvern Hill. Actually, the game sounds pretty linear, given the scenario-writer's description.

Wagenhoffer wrote the scenarios on the most successful of the Campaign series so far, Campaign Corinth, so I'm somewhat sanguine. Dimitri ought to be annoyed, though - Wagenhoffer says that he used to the Gates of Richmond heavily in his research.