Friday, March 31, 2006

Claymore sounded good in theory. A shounen (actually seinen... whoops) fantasy action-manga about female demon-hunters who are themselves half-demon? It's the sort of thing I usually adore, if done at all well. Think Buffy, Devilman Lady, Vampire Princess Miyu. Good stuff.

Well, that's the theory. Suppose I should have actually taken a look at the art before putting it on order with the 'Swap. It's... damned stiff. The default posture of characters is an alarmed rictus, and they don't generally break out of said rictus unless it's fight-fight time. The fights, the artist can handle - looks a little like Parasyte on an arty day. The backgrounds are not too bad, if a little generic. Speaking of generic, the writing is terribly, terribly schematic. Reads like an outline of a story proposal rather than the story itself, let alone any dialog or narrative portion thereof. There aren't really many characters, for that matter, and we're given little reason to care about any of the three which survive the first volume uneviscerated.

Why should I give the manga a second volume to collect itself? There has to be some reason it was picked up by Viz. It's always possible that it's a first work, and thus needs a couple chapters to loosen up... hmm, the artist seems to have another long-running manga under his belt. In fact, the artist is a sixteen-year veteran. Blech. Have I just talked myself out of this particular waste of money? Maybe.
Busy week... just got back from my first doctor's appointment in a dozen years. What is it with public spaces & the encroachment of blaring cable TV? The bars with loud, distracting television sets are annoying enough, but doctors' office lobbies are supposed to be quiet, solemn spaces, where a man can read his book in peace and await his cue. CNN Headline News chattering from the corner is deeply unwelcome, if you ask me.

The doctor says I'm perfectly fine, BTW. I was just getting pestered about having a "primary care physician" for the insurance forms, and needed to actually see a doctor in order to make one appear on the forms. Or something like that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dang. Was I the only one who didn't know that Dylan wrote a pro-Israel song right after the Osirak bombing:
Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Not sure if I like the way he repeats the catch-phrase after every short stanza like that, but I admire the intent behind the song. Wonder what it sounds like... Infidels, eh?

Came across the reference in a Tim Blair comment thread on Billy Bragg, whom I also had never heard of until NPR started flogging him in glowing terms as if he were the second coming of Pete Seeger. The bits of "music" accompanying those NPR bits sounded absolutely horrible, and Bragg himself sounds like a tedious piece of work who'd make Joan Baez seem sociable & sensible in comparison. For what it's worth.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stanislaw Lem died. He wasn't one of my favorite writers - of the two, I'm much more fond of Phil Dick - but he was a landmark of sorts.

H/T Doktor Frank.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Reading a potato-growers industry magazine as assigned non-busy-work by the boss, and there's an agribusiness profile of Okray Farms which fails at one of the most basic tasks of a business profile - bothering to give the reader simple information such as where the business is located. I had to google them to find out that they're a Wisconsin grower.

The next article is written by "Voscar", no last name. Or, possibly, no first name. Hard to tell with a name like that. What, are goths now getting jobs as feature writers for agricultural industry magazines? Maybe it's the name, Spudman. Who wouldn't want to write for a publication called Spudman?
"Which brings us to Larry Samuel, who aims to do for the American wealthy what Margaret Mead did for the Samoans."

What, lie, commit research fraud, and portray his subjects as promiscuous slatterns for the purposes of subtle and not-so-subtle political manipulation of the data?

Don't read that article. It's an IQ-point-sucking-machine. I feel you dumber for having read it. See? Beforehand, I would have *thought* I was less intelligent. Now I "feel" "dumber". Daniel Gross, give me back my wits!

Friday, March 24, 2006

We went down to the Bellefonte Wok for lunch, which is something I used to do all the time, back before I became a diet nazi. Turns out my office-mate went to high school with Andy, the owner of the Wok, which makes Andy a lot younger than he looks. Andy wanted to know where I had gotten to, because I used to be a semi-daily regular. Well, he was half-joking, because it was physically obvious where I had gotten to, given the missing 90 lbs & the loose-fitting clothes and all.

I explained that part of losing the weight was *not* eating every other meal at the local all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, no matter how delicious the chicken-and-broccoli & chicken teriyaki skewers might be. Andy nodded wisely & said that it was all a matter of watching your portions, which is just what everybody says, but really, being told to watch my portions by the proprietor of an all-you-can-eat buffet is a bit of something, isn't it? Like being catechized by Moloch.
Groovy, daddy-O. [Snap,snap!]

Via th' Blogfadda, he ain't no Mr. Jones.

Anyone seen Maynard?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hah! Beards are back! It only took ninety years & the better part of my grandparents' lifetimes! The article is full of the usual coastal musing about zeitgeist & reactions against metrosexuality and all that rubbish. To be honest, I wear a beard because I don't care to shave. That, and it keeps the wind off my face in the cold months.

Via Ann Althouse, who is resolutely opposed to hairy males. Given the fact that she had to put up with smelly, bearded hippies in the Sixties, I can't say I can blame her.
Oh, this is good. Three hostages were "found" according to Agence France-Presse. According to a - perhaps more thorough, perhaps less biased - CP (Canadian Press News Service?), the three "peace activists" were freed by a military operation. Never attribute to a military operation what can be obscured by the passive voice and some vigorous handwaving, eh, AFP? Bah.

Later versions of the AFP report seem to have been merged with less-insane BBC and unknown (AP?) wire service reporting.

Via Iraqi Coalition Casualties news aggregator.
This is pretty harsh. An Iraqi doctor in Kirkuk was a member of an insurgent cell, and under the chaos of emergency-room chaos in a violent city, managed to kill dozens of wounded Iraqi soldiers and police by lethal injection over a nine-month period before his cell leader was captured and ratted him out. Let me repeat that one - he was caught because his line-of-command was captured. If not, he'd still be murdering helpless wounded soldiers while pretending to be a hard-working, selfless professional. "Insurgent" really seems to be the wrong term of art in cases like this. "Serial killer" seems more appropriate.

But keep this in mind the next time you see an outraged quote in the paper from an Iraqi morgue attendant or doctor. The enemy aren't all street scum, drug addicts and bearded lunatics. Some are a more subtle species of monster.

Via the Iraqi Coalition Casualties aggregator.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gah! Somebody bought a crate of Nestle-brand water "to serve at conferences" here at work. First of all, it's unnatural to have the name "Nestle" on a bottle of water. Nestle is chocolate, not fru-fru bottled water, bedamme! Secondly, this is Bellefonte. Note the derivation, beautiful spring. The whole town gets its water from a vast roaring beast known as "the Big Spring". Not only is the town water taken from a pure mountain spring, it's bottled and sold as such. We get spring water on tap in this town! To pay per bottle for it is nigh on blasphemy!

Speaking of blasphemy & water bills, the borough delivered the water bill for February for the church across the street to my box on Saturday. Fifteen days late & to the wrong address - way to go, post office!
Hm. Jim Morrow's the Last Witchfinder just showed up from Amazon. I remember him talking about it at that ParaCon reunion Fred organized in, hrm, 2000 I think? It's been a while since the Eternal Footman. For those in the area, he's one of our local writers. Or he was, last time I checked - he hasn't moved, has he, Fred?

Back when I was working for the Kerrs at Nittany Office Supplies, I found myself selling Jim a ream of old-fashioned continuous-feed computer paper and some pencil lead, probably for this book. He apparently writes long-hand on a scroll of computer paper, sort of like Kerouac & his taped-together roll of paper in a typewriter for On the Road.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Below the cut is that long-promised photoessay on the Union Cemetary Gatehouse here in Bellefonte, concentrating on a strange late-Victorian-era architectural detail, the impaled gable. Images courtesy of Jason Gullickson of mylens. Click the "+" for more.

This is a building standing on the northwest corner of the Union Cemetary property in central Bellefonte, arching over the entrance to the cemetary from Howard Street. Union Cemetary is an old hilltop-style cemetary behind the county courthouse complex on High Street, between Howard and High Streets.
Union Cemetary inspired this poem not long after I first moved into Bellefonte. It's a grand old cemetary, which holds the graves of three Pennsylvania governors, including Civil War-era Governor Andrew Curtin, his brother the general, and an interesting scatter of nearly-anonymous USCT graves at the foot of the hill among the "colored" section which testified to Bellefonte's prewar service as one of the stops on a spur of the Underground Railroad.
As you can see, the Gatehouse is clearly a neo-Gothic building, albeit a rather modest and unassuming specimen of the species. It has three sharply-defined gables in the front, and four gables in the back:

The Gatehouse looks like a stylistic whole from the streetfront, but as you can see from the rear view, it has had at least one extension built in the century or so since its initial construction, and possibly two if that unbalanced dormer on the right-centre of the building is what it looks like - an extension built on an earlier, more-harmonically balanced extension from the rear of the original right-rear of the building. You can't quite see it here, but that lower "gable" on the left hand side is actually a detached shed located across a patio & artificial spring from the proper left-rear of the Gatehouse itself.

As you can see from both the front and rear images, the house actually arches across a functioning entrance to the cemetary, a paved road wide enough & substantial enough to take your Expedition-class SUV without strain - I ought to know, I've dodged such beasts more than once, walking under that arch. Another obvious later addition is the ungainly concrete-brick chimney to the right of the gateway arch. Looks like heck, especially compared with the period clay chimney-pot at the far right, but the probable inherent ineffeciency of that very clay chimney-pot is most likely what inspired that concrete chimney addition.

This view here demonstrates some of the more exccentric elements of the Gatehouse, and of this class of Victorian construction in Bellefonte in general. First is the peculiar steep roof detail in between the gables. Note how the slope of the roof in between the "v" makes a sharp diagonal overhang with the face of the building itself.

But the second, more interesting, element, are the beasties resting in the peaks of each of the three front gables. There are wooden posts jutting downward from each gable-peak, looking for all the world like a set of stair-bannisters nailed upside down into the cleft formed by each gable's sides. It would be peculiar enough if this were an architectural detail unique to the Gatehouse - the crotchet of some crazed do-it-yourself-er Victorian, but it seems as if these "spar pointed down" gable-impalements were some kind of craze among the lesser lights of Victorian Bellefonte at its influential height. I haven't found any of these impaled gables among the buildings put up by those who actually ran the town in those heady days, but minor buildings, built no doubt by the lesser landed folk and the middle-middle class, can be found in certain parts of town with said spar-impaled gables.

There is the Gatehouse, of course, but you can also find these impaled gables in the surviving neo-Gothic houses along High Street south of Union Cemetary as well. Here is what must be the most outrageous example of an impaled gable, in which the spar has actually been run through the roofline of the gable, and protrudes from the gable like a giant's sewing-needle. You'll also note the wooden detail-work visible around the central spar, which would have left the impression of a less intrusive, harmonious whole in the gable-assemblange - if the architect had not then allowed the central spar to jut skyward like a wooden lighting-rod! The peculiarity becomes more acute when you realize that there seems to be no lighting rod at all in this agglomeration - that seems to be all wood in there. Surprisingly enough, this building has not yet been struck with lightning, or at least, not enough to cause its destruction in the century or so since its construction.
Oh, by the way? Nothing has made me more inclined towards the pro-life point of view than this ongoing nonsense about "Roe for men". I thought it was monstrous when I first heard about it on NPR last week, and it certainly hasn't grown on me in the interim.

So we've gone from "men not telling women what to do with their bodies - let 'em kill fetuses!" to "men telling women what to do with their bodies - force 'em to kill fetuses!", have we? You don't even need to believe that a fetus is a baby to find this all really, really maddening.
Why do I bother with cable? I mean, I haven't managed to keep current on a single show I set out to watch this season. I've pretty much given up on sitting down to watch the Shield or Battlestar Galactica - the Shield because I kept falling asleep or getting distracted by the State of the Union or just plain old forgetting that it was on; Battlestar Galactica because it's on Friday nights for the love of Zod, and as unlikely as it seemed when I was younger, I've somehow managed to grow a life in my dotage - more often than not, I'm out & about on Friday nights.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


In the defense of the mother, I suspect this is some kind of Chinese-calligraphy take on Andy Warhol. The examples look far too neat & clean to be real calligraphy, though. At least not the Japanese version of calligraphy. Slop & spastic incoherence seem to pass for passion & artistry in the work I've seen. I suspect this means that I don't "get" calligraphy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I've been watching Blue Seed this week, from a big pile of borrowed DVDs from Big Dave. Back when I first encountered this series, I didn't really warm to it, and to be honest, I only watched two episodes. The combination of what looked like typical schoolgirl-tentacle foolishness & way, way too much emphasis on the heroine's panties conspired to send me off in search of less goofy pastures. Those elements are still there - although the whole tentacle thing proved to be a first-few-episode sort of thing - but with age comes patience, I suppose, and the show is proving to be not bad for what it is.

What Blue Seed *is*, is a blend of the usual kind of teenage-protagonist angst-fest aimed at the high school/junior high school market, and the sort of workplace/ensemble procedural aimed at the older college-age fanboy market segment. They pull this off by introducing a miko/designated virgin-sacrifice schoolgirl, Momiji of "legendary Izumo", and inserting her into a semi-secret government anti-monster agency staffed by the usual suspects. So it's a schoolgirl *in* a workplace-ensemble show - kind of like Witch Hunter Robin, except that nobody ever thought to force Robin to go to school... ANYways -

Momiji has been raised from infancy with the understanding that she's special, and precious, and is expected to be willing to be sacrificed - literally, life & all - "for the good of Japan", in the undescribed eventuality no-one around her bothers to explain or elaborate upon. This leaves her a little unprepared when a strange, rather supernatural guy shows up and threatens to kill her, but the extingencies of plot and contrivance eventually leads said male-lead, Kusinagi, to become her monstrous knight-protector as she jets off to Tokyo to work for the government, hunting down & fighting the plant-like "Aragami" which her specialness is destined to combat. Sort of. It gets kind of complicated, in the bludgeony, ponderous fashion that -Nineties TV anime often demonstrated.

The politics of Blue Seed are pretty fascinating from a historical perspective. The manga and TV were written in the ugly aftermath of the collapse of the Bubble Economy. This was the period in which the failure of a mad speculation-fed private-sector construction boom was followed in turn by an equally mad public-sector explosion of civil-engineering boondoggles, each more wasteful than the last. It seemed from this end of the Pacific as if the Japanese government was determined to cover every square foot of their country, rural, urban & waterway, with ferroconcrete in a desperate Keynsian war against recession & desperate denial of the death of the Japan of the Future.

This scramble for construction is in every episode of Blue Seed either as part of the plot, or as busy-work going on in the background. Not that this was unusual for the anime of the early Nineties - but the *way* that Blue Seed deals with this real-estate lunacy is somewhat unusual. Almost all of the monstrous outbreaks of Aragami un-naturalness are directly or indirectly associated with "unnatural Japan" - a distinct and damning comparison of nature-loving traditional "old Japan" with drunken, busy, ugly "modern Japan". The usual episode is "construction company destroys vital element of traditional Japanese countryside, Aragami start killing people, starting with the construction workers". As the series grinds on, you get more and more of a feeling that the writers think that the humans have it coming. All the philosophical arguments get handed to the villains, who become more and more sympathetic, or at least, talkative.

I haven't finished watching the show yet, but as an eco-reactionary text, it's quite striking. Can't say that I *like* the politics all that much, but it isn't finger-nails-down-the-chalkboard irritating. At least it's the villains spouting all the "old ways are best, nature unspoiled, damn all modernity anyways, kill off most of humanity for sustainability!" horseshit. Even if you get the idea that we're supposed to be ambivalent-to-sympathetic to the monster-Luddites.
Hmm, the storm which barely dusted Bellefonte has apparently encased State College in inches of ice, and the folks from State College are trickling in to work full of horror stories of wrecks & road-ice.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Next Wednesday, March 15th, is the fourth annual Eat A Tasty Animal For PETA Day. I'm debating whether to attempt to cook a steak here at work, or just throw up my hands, admit that I'm no kind of cook, & head on up to Garfield's at the mall for lunch on the 15th.
Around one in five adults smoke these days. And I swear every single one of them play in the bar-sponsored free poker tournaments. *Cough* *cough*.

Link via Adam C at RedHot.

Update: the endlessly cynical Minuteman thinks that the Post has got it wrong, and that it's all about the bootlegging and the Prohibition and the taxation. Eh, I've never been able to take the idea of cigarette bootlegging seriously, and the article specifically notes a wide-spread shift from branded cigarettes to the much cheaper generics, which suggests that your average smoker gets around tax hikes by sticking it to Big Brand Tobacco, rather than trying to dodge the taxman.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

There's a sign up for the new development on Benner Pike above Bellefonte - "Skyview Terrace". My parents' first house was on a Skyview Terrace. That's a hell of a coincidence. We'll see if there's anything in my price range in a few years... looks like at least a few of the buildings will be duplexes or townhouses, so you never can tell.
Mmm. Not sure what I think of Monster yet. I really want to think highly of it, and there's strong design, layout & composition reasons for loving that manga's visual style & presentation. It's also an adult story about adults doing adult, normal, non-risque things without much in the way of fantasy or science-fiction elements, which is a nice change of pace. The author has a reputation for excellence for things like 20th Century Boys, Mr. Keaton & Yawara. All well & to the good.

But the writer goes & throws out his whole plot-arc & theme in one sharp-edged, undigested, vomitious mass at the end of the first volume, blowing any credit he'd earned for subtlety or lightness of touch in the preceding chapters. Lame, lame, lame. Even if it was laid out in a fine, stylized, handsome fashion. Like using a Stradivarius as a club, really.

Do better, mangaka. That's an order.

Monday, March 06, 2006

You know, reading all the blogs going on about the Oscars, I realized that I haven't seen a movie in the theatres in about three months. Maybe I'll go see Ultraviolet if Dave has the time between packing next weekend & I don't end up spending the weekend driving down to Harrisburg or something stupid like that.

Doesn't help when the local in-walking-distance theatre keeps booking crap like 8 Below for multiple weekends.
Nothing much going on, somebody on the Con's staff has had a massive brain fart, and I'm halfway worried that I might find it necessary to go down to the meeting on Saturday, which I had rather preferred not to, if at all possible... Ran into Jason Gullickson while we were both out walking yesterday afternoon, and we went over to the Union Cemetary neighborhood to take some photos of the distinctive Victorian-era architecture along High Street and Howard Street on either side of the cemetary. At some point I hope to get ahold of the images & put together a bit of something. Later in the week, possibly.

I've been mostly sitting around, watching old anime. Irresponsible Captain Tylor, notably, thinking of the late Jeff Thompson, and wondering how it is that someone so young died so unexpectedly. I kept waiting for someone to post about how it was all a stupid, sick joke of the sort fans historically have been guilty of playing on each other.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Didn't do well at the HiWay championship last night, and went on to lose some money at the home game after all of us went out before the final table, but at least I got free pizza and a t-shirt out of the experience, so I shouldn't bitch too hard. Especially after the guy who came in second to me at the last championship told me that he had *not* gotten the cash prize I had thought went to second-place, and had been a little peeved that I had run off so fast after being the only one "in the money". I owe him a drink next time, I guess.

I think I need a break from the home game - I'm not doing well at all, and not really enjoying myself at them.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My friend Ben is moving to Denver today. We were helping him haul stuff down to the car & trailer, and moving his abandoned furniture down to the curb. About the only good thing about friends moving away is the opportunity to scavenge decent furniture from their abandons. I finally got rid of that couch with no back legs in exchange for one with, y'know, legs. And a shelf. You can never have enough shelving.

Ben is hauling whatever will fit into his little Civic hatchback & the biggest trailer that U-Haul would rent him. It's got a "45 MPH" limit sign on it, but he's talking about taking the interstates to Colorado. I told him I'm worried about that big trailer flipping his little car if it gets wobbly. Not exactly the best time of year to be driving cross-country, either. Be careful, Ben.