Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The North Aral Sea is coming back, in spite of all predictions. Apparently a reasonably rational government & some well-thought-out engineering work still can work miracles, given a bit of grace. On the other hand, the much larger southern half of the Aral has the misfortune of lying within the bounds of Uzbekistan, and has little to no prospect of returning.

Via Lawrence at the Argus.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

This report on the National Guard side of Katrina unexpectedly makes Gov. Blanco sound much, much more competent and sensible than she appeared at the time, or afterwards, for that matter. It's testimony against interest, since RCP is kind of right-of-centre. Basically, the argument is that Blanco was inclined to resist federalization because she was tied into the state National Guard communications network, and was aware that they had things under control, no matter what fantasies the national press and Mayor Nagin were feeding us & the federals here in the outside world. She sounded incompetent, because our view of the disaster and the response was catastrophically inaccurate.

Link via the Instapundit.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Huh. The anime club at Penn State is talking anime convention. I've never been very involved with any of the incarnations of PSAO - I seem to remember that there was an organization of that name in the late Nineties, but the current one suggests that it was founded in September of 2001(!) on its website.
The various conservancies held their annual "Big Spring Festival" yesterday down at Tallyrand Park in Bellefonte. Attendance was kind of low, probably due to the miserable rainy morning and the many recent firehouse carnivals, but the afternoon was a bright, blustery blue-skied wonderland, so it was nice for the few of us who came by. They had a band - a pretty good one, too, a blues-rock quintet whose drummer kept crediting the sound folks, but never mentioned the name of the band. They had a young, tiny little frontwoman with an enormous, bluesy voice - I ran into her proud father afterwards. Even he didn't know the band's name.

About four o'clock they held a semi-ceremonial restocking affair on the High Street bridge over Spring Creek, one guy dipping trout and other big fish out of a truck into buckets, and a line of guys through the bushes down to the wall to hand them down to a guy who was showing them to the kids before emptying the buckets into a temporary sluiceway the last twenty feet into the creek. I kept expecting one of the kids or a member of the bucket brigade to overbalance and fall into the creek, but luck was with them, and the only victim was an especially large rainbow trout who was too big to fit into a bucket, and got handed down in the net, bounding out of the sluiceway before he got a foot and a half down, thus plummeting over a dozen feet into the water. Nobody saw the trout float to the surface, so the assumption was that he survived his plunge.

Later that evening I walked to Milesburg along the railroad. It runs along the far side of the water gap from Rt. 150/144, and I had never gone down that side of the creek before. Turns out there's a surprisingly large switchyard down there, with about a half-dozen sidings and thirty or forty empty cars sitting on one track or another. The fishermen were plentiful as well, no doubt getting their first crack at the newly released fish, although the one man I talked to, walking along the track towards his favorite spot, hadn't heard about the restocking when I asked. There were at least a dozen flyfishermen enjoying the early evening weather, in the creek between the mouths of Buffalo Run and Bald Eagle Creek. Not a bad walk, if a trifle uneven in places. Railbed gravel can be a little on the rockish side of big for walking.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dimitri wonders in a comment on David Woodsbury's post on the Sultana why so many men who survived the initial explosion failed to find the river-bank and drowned in the Mississippi. Dimitri allows as how Andersonville survivors might have been physically weakened. I would add on top of that the fact that the explosion occurred in the darkness of early morning, and that many no doubt couldn't even find the river-bank. Additionally, we're talking about the middle river in the late Civil War, in a period of civic neglect, even by the 19th century's less-than-rigorous standards of civil engineering. It was no doubt a riverine wilderness, and in the middle of the spring flood at that! What's amazing is that they pulled as many living men from the river as they did.

On the other hand, I don't quite see what's obscure about the Sultana disaster at this point. To put it in Dimitri's terms, the Sultana is the last stop on the Centennial Andersonville narrative, and almost no modern writer who writes anywhere *near* the subject can resist throwing in something about the last, final act of the tragedy, where those who survived battle, capture, captivity, privation, and the many indignities of Andersonville, were killed by such an ugly and massive and stupid accident on the way home.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Huh. That's unexpected. The Crowbar is gone. It was a dive, and other than going to see a Pink Floyd cover band with Ben Hauger a few years ago & playing poker last fall, I never went there. But it was the kind of dive which I would have expected to have made money hand over fist - I wonder if live music for the kids is doing poorly with the university crowd?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Woohoo! Jubelirer is out on his can! Good job, Jessica!

There was somebody at our ward trying to get Democrats to write in Benninghoff. I still don't quite get why this was a worthwhile use of that somebody's time.

We were given a choice between the computer poll & an optiscan system, both of them new to this district. I went with the optiscan, since there were four booths, and just one computer. I managed to mess things up two different ways - by handing the ballot to the lady without the stub sticking out, and inserted upside-down such that you could see how I voted if you really cared, but neither was a vote-wrecking sort of error.

But dang, I miss the old needle-punch and card.
For the Fallen

What need of hope when on two proud feet
We stand safely on home ground?
What need of wealth has the solvent
Whose well-financed business thrives?
What need of might has the strong
Health for the hale, the rested for rest,
The clear-eyed for clarity, the clever for wits,
The knowing for knowledge, the wise for wisdom?

Seeing far with clear-sighted eyes
None blink away tears of regret or pain or sadness.

It is only after a fall,
Having stumbled,
Having been pushed,
Having fallen
By malice or illness or ill wind
Or sickness or the chill hand of death near at hand
That frustration, tears, fear and prayer
Come as the answers to our need

These are the children of pain and need
Of that lineage of age and misfortune
Whose ancestors were locked beyond the gates
From which, with our ancestors naked and shivering
Were expelled, were flung upon the world,
Who peered one last time
Beyond the flaming blade
That barred the way.

That blade comes again with every misfortune
As a memory of the fall
As a fall in itself
And like each fall,
It comes as pain and anguish
And a rush of naked need:

Clothe us,
Who having been warm, are naked
Feed us,
Who having known plenty, are starving
Heal us
Who having been whole are now hurt!

But while there is life
Man is more than his earth
More than the dust
More than that which rests in the grave
And even before the grave itself
Is hope
And man is a beast that
Having fallen but still having hope
Will rise again
Having tripped, will find his stride
Having found his knees
Will try to gain his feet

Having fallen,
Being now, as we are,
In this time that has been given to us
In the hope that we might
Stand on our feet again
In whatever time we have remaining
Let us then put our faith
In the rising.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

I picked up the first paperback volume of Tezuka's Buddha last week at the 'Swap. While I like Tezuka well enough, I don't like him enough to pay hardback prices for his stuff. I hadn't realized that the US version of Buddha had been flopped Studio Proteus-style until I cracked it open the other night. One character lost a couple of limbs, and *which* limbs kept varying from page to page, and even panel to panel, as the retouching crew were selectively flopping on a panel-by-panel manner in an attempt to match flow & layout, instead of just mirror-flopping everything regardless.

It's really kind of disconcerting. Fans have refused to put up with this sort of thing on doofy junk titles like Naruto or Sgt. Frog for years, but the hoity-toity art-comix and academic crowd which snabbles up high-tone projects like Buddha are apparently cool with the American publisher diddling the artwork on one of the God of Manga's flagship projects. I mean, Buddha is regularly recommended to the non-fan market in mainstream publications like Entertainment Weekly. The story and the background art manages to mostly overwhelm the flopped artwork mess, and I'm even kind of cool with the bambi-and-thumper-get-disemboweled cognitive dissonance of the cartoony art style and the gloomy-religious subject matter. I wasn't ashamed to be seen reading it while sitting around waiting for things to start up at the History Day festivities.

What I was ashamed of was the computer-marketing-sales-professional office dropping who decided to plug in his earpiece right there in Finlay Commons & loudly conduct his business in public, like he was doing high-pressure sales out of office at home or something. I don't think he was a judge - probably some poor kid's workaholic father. Jerk.
Oof. I love Penn State dorm food, but I think I'm too old for such shenanigans. They fed the run-off judges for the History Day thing out of the Finlay Commons for lunch. Two cheeseburgers, some fries, juice & milk, way too many chocolate-chip cookies. Now I can barely move, I feel like a rattlesnake on a chilly, overcast October afternoon.

Things went about as well as such things do these days. There seems to be fewer and fewer actual educational professionals judging at these things - last year there weren't many in the papers judging panels, and this year, I didn't work with a single teacher in either one of my panels. Yesterday was Judge Brown, me, and a lady from the documents section of the PSU main campus library - all of us from Bellefonte, BTW, we got into a big gossip section about my one-time landlord & all the fires we've been getting in town. Today was Bruce Teeple, the guy who's working on the Prince Farrington history, and a lawyer from Southeast PA who does a history column on the side. We seem to be doing OK, but where are all the folks with pedagogical training? Off doing the "fun" subjects like performances & documentaries?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jim Cleaveland, a PSSFS alum from the mid-Nineties, used to do a comic for the weekly newsletters that Bernhard Warg put out for the club, the Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Jim's starting up Bob again as a webcomic, here, starting with the original run of comics from the newsletter, which was called, er... You know, I don't remember what the newsletter was called when Bernhard was editing. It was Dangerous Advice when I took it over, but that was my name. Anybody remember?
Finally got around to reading that copy of Sterling's The Zenith Angle that I bought back before Christmas. It was a lot better than I had feared - funny and strange in that late-Bruce-Sterling sort of fashion. Sterling always has been the starry-eyed optimist of the cyberpunk set. He really believes in the innate decency of mankind. Of course, the cyber-war global-dot-com plot of the book was a complete and total misreading of what was going on in 2001 and 2002, and the book's constant administration name-dropping was rendered even more peculiar by Sterling's failure to mention Dick Clarke, the actual, goofy-ass proponent of cyber-terrorism and computer security who turned into such a walking embarrassment during the 2004 elections.

I kept expecting something horrible to come of the dropped thread mid-book about the elk with Mad Cow Disease, and the fact that they were feeding them to the astronomers. It seemed like the sort of thing which would have fed into the whole isolated-hiding-from-the-big-bad-world academics-unable-to-deal-and-hiding thing that Sterling was flirting with mid-book. Especially given the 2003-2004 vogue for "BDS" - Bush Derangement Syndrome. But, since the book reads as if it was mostly composed in mid-late 2002, I suppose that's a little ahead of the political curve, chronologically speaking. Although Sterling throws in a bit about "web logs" as the wave of the future in the last few pages.

Anyways, definitely better than Heavy Weather or Holy Fire, not quite as good as Zeitgeist. About on the level of Distraction.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Walked up to the mall to watch United 93 at the multiplex on Saturday. Not much to say about the movie - it was worth the twelve-mile round-trip - but I did spend a good chunk of the "there" part of the walk wondering if I was trespassing on State Penn land by walking along the side of the Benner Pike past all the "No Trespassing - Violators Will Be Prosecuted" signs. I had forgotten about all of the no trespassing signs - they go by pretty fast when you're driving past them at 55 MPH - but walking along the pike gave me lots of time to ponder the legalities. On the one side, there's the whole "public thoroughfare" thing - if it's legal to drive along the Pike, why the hell couldn't I walk blameless? - on the other side, there's that whole "this means you" every-two-hundred-yards thing shouting in my face in all-caps institutional-green lettering. Saw nothing but road traffic, distant cows, and Rockview's horse herd, so it didn't come to cases as I half-feared. On the way back, I walked along I-99 instead - louder, but probably safer & definitely not trespassing by any interpretation I'm aware of.

I spent the trip reading a Rosemary Edghill Regency romance in the style of Georgette Heyer, Turkish Delight, which really was a quite excellent pastiche. The one complaint I had about the novel was that the heroine, who supposedly spent her late childhood and adolescence in the harem of the Ottoman Sultan, speaks exactly like every other Regency romance heroine who isn't a French guttersnipe (These Old Shades) or Spanish newlywed (An Infamous Army). That is to say, full of early-19th-century slang and dialect, of a certain class and sophistication. If you're going to make your heroine a Turk who occasionally communicates in Turkish or swears by Allah & the Prophet, be so good as to actually use the language. It adds a bit of color, you see. And no, the occasional use of "hareem" and "houri" doesn't count. For one thing, I'm pretty sure both are Arabic, not Turkish.

Oh, and don't have your heroine dis on Mansfield Park until you have more than one book under your belt. You have to earn that sort of snark.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Er, to unpack that a bit, the link leads to an alleged description of Elvis's allegedly lethal diet. I don't believe he actually ate it, at least not more than once. The "Fool's Gold" sandwiches in particular strike me as gastonomically impossible. No human being could successfully eat entire jars of peanut butter and jelly spread on a full baguette, let alone two instances of such a concoction, let alone as part of a daily diet.
We went hiking yesterday afternoon trying to find the burnt section of Bald Eagle Mountain over west of Milesburg. We failed. We did, however, manage to scrabble up to the top of the ridge via a gas-line firebreak. Bald Eagle Valley looks positively bucolic from a thousand feet up. At close range, it's another story. Nittany Valley, on the other hand, looks like what it is - an enormous construction site. Progress ain't pretty at a distance, but it is progress. I'm much happier living on *this* side of the mountain.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Comment from other office worker: "this has enough salt to kill a horse!" Also much discussion of tofu's amazing ability to soak up flavor - being a sort of flavor vacuum itself, and bearing in mind nature's well-known abhorence of vacuums, it makes a certain sort of metaphoric sense.

Tofu jerky, by the way, bears a strong visual resemblance to chocolate wafers, or "one of those bricks of pioneer chewing tobacco".
Officemate brought in his tofu jerky. It isn't half-bad, but salty as all get out. Not the sort of thing you'd want to make a full meal out of, I think. The office vegetarian was delighted. Yet again with the vegetarians delighting in fake meats... if you want to eat meat, eat meat. If you don't, don't play foolie-foolie games with your palate. Not that I'd turn away the tofu jerky. In suitably small quantities with lots of soda-pop to wash it down.

And speaking of pop, Diet Dr. Pepper Berries 'n Cream is a trainwreck of a soda. Cream flavor does not belong in a carbonated drink. Oh, well. I can deal with anything for a two-liters-worth of time.
Saw my first tentworm nest on Sunday behind the Willowbank building. Now there's nests scattered up Valentine Hill & every other tree along the upper reaches of Valentine Hill Road. The entomologists say they're just nuisances, but they're ugly as sin. Hope the dry weather keeps 'em under control.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

My officemate just announced that he makes tofu jerky. I inquired whether this was tofu & jerky or jerked tofu, and he admitted to the latter. Thus followed a conversation on the subject of what exactly was the process for jerking tofu, and what was added to make it taste like anything at all - a marination of soy sauce, honey, and garlic being key, apparently. It still sounds like a punchline waiting on a nonexistent joke.

These are the days I'm proud of not tolerating a stove or other cooking implements in my apartment. They almost always lead one into all sorts of culinary abominations, kitchens. Leave the cooking to the professionals, says I.
I was looking at John Scalzi's Whatever blog while pondering placing him on my blogroll as a replacement for some others whom I've stopped reading with any degree of interest or enthusiasm. Then I came across this post. You see, the thing I dislike the most about fandom - and I dislike it quite strongly - is the uncomfortable and overly close relationship it breeds between artists and their audience. I'm a strong advocate of the fourth wall being, if not impenetrable, then at least a functional one-way mirror for most of its operational lifetime. I don't want writers to be my friends, or mentors, or, heaven forbid, siblings parents or spouses. I don't want to consider their feelings when reading their output, and in fact, as I read an awful lot of fiction, oftentimes I don't want to think about them at all, if at all possible.

The internet & blogs in particular have done a lot to break down these barriers between the artist and the audience, and I can't say I'm too happy about it. I'm a nasty piece of work, to be honest, and it freaks me out when I say something about a writer out of the blue and he replies in email. It's all a bit "Kent, this is God" for my tastes. It's even worse when a writer I sort-of know & otherwise respect lays a massive turd of a book, and then I find myself tip-toeing around the subject. I *like* there to be a distance between me & my writers.

So I may or may not go back to Scalzi's blog. He's an amusing guy. But I've got this issue to work out on the subject.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Huh. There's another fire in the valley, or more strictly speaking, over in Penn's Valley. You can see a big honking column of smoke rising over Centre Hall Mountain, although I was just informed that it's Tussey Mountain on the other side of the valley that's on fire. Must be a heck of a fire if you can see it from over here. Nothing in the CDT as of this moment.
Our representative in Congress here in Bellefonte, John Peterson, is generally a colorless sort of fellow, neither warm nor cool. There seems to be one thing that gets him going, and that's drilling for American oil. He is pissed about Castro opening up potential offshore oil resources for exploration when Florida politicians refuse to allow the US to do likewise. Sen. Nelson of Florida was likewise pissed, so he's trying to get Castro to stop. Peterson, surprisingly for a politician, showed a great deal of common sense and inquired if we were going to stop the Canadians from doing the same thing. I think I'm proud of Peterson this week.

The cool thing? Central Pennsylvania has almost no direct economic interest in the oil industry. Our gas prices aren't even particularly high by national standards, although we're not an island of cheapness, either. Peterson isn't playing to the home folks, far as I can tell. He doesn't even have a serious challenge to his seat.
Well, Big Dave is moved down to Philadelphia, we finished clearing out his storage locker on Saturday, and he drove his belongings down Sunday morning. Gonna miss having him around town. We both got invited to a friend's wedding in November. I realized yesterday looking at my suit that I've shrunk right out of it. Wonder if you can get a suit re-sized downwards like that? A rented tux would be, hrm, a bit much, and I only wear that suit for weddings - the last time I had it on was for the Nadzams' wedding several years ago. They've got two kids now! It's definitely been a while.